August 25, 2012

From Ratner's Times Square role to Atlantic Yards: corporate dominance of public space and a noncompetitive insider deal

Atlantic Yards Report

In James Traub's 2004 book, The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square, the author describes (on p. 189) a memorable interview with Bruce Ratner, "the developer responsible for Madame Tussaud's and Applebee's."

Ratner, Traub suggests, "is not a native New Yorker with a New Yorker's possessiveness over the city's past," and observes his subject justifying his decisions.

What's America today? Chains

Traub begins by quoting Ratner:

"Applebee's and Chevys--they're what America is today. I'm not saying that's good or bad, any more than Bond Clothes was." Bond, on Broadway and 44th, was Times Square's biggest retailer in the forties and fifties...

Ratner's implicit point was that 42nd Street was being true to its own past precisely by virtue of being dominated by McDonald's and the ESPN Zone. Forth-second Street was the home of popular entertainment, and in our own time mass culture is produced by giant companies. The elite can afford the local and the particular; ordinary folks consume less expensive, franchised products. And so a "corporate" 42nd Street was a democratic 42nd Street. Ratner's aides were now chuckling with some embarrassment at the boss's swelling oratory, but he plunged on, the bit between his teeth. "It's always been a place to go out for the lower-middle-income New Yorker. You go out on a Saturday night, and it's basically people of low-middle-income means, from the boroughs, from New Jersey, from Long Island, out for a date. If you think about all the great streets in the world, it's about seeing people from that culture. And it does that. And you know what? Maybe, at the end of the day, that's what a successful street is. Should it be Applebee's or should it be someplace else? Who knows? It's a great place."

The scene is quite plausible, as Ratner, in interviews, can start to babble.


Posted by eric at 9:57 AM

August 12, 2012

Forest City promotes arena, prefab to Forum for Urban Design; will the arena "begin the substantial and divisive redevelopment" of neighborhoods nearby?

Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards builders have recently been promoting the project to the Forum for Urban Design, an organization that "convenes the world’s preeminent leaders in architecture, urban planning, design and development -- as well as professionals in government, education and journalism whose work intersects with the built environment -- to discuss and debate the defining issues that face our cities."

Here are the summaries from the Forum, with a few comments from me.


On April 18, the Forum for Urban Design convened to discuss the tallest building in the world to be built with modular construction. Bruce Ratner and MaryAnne Gilmartin of Forest City Ratner and Christopher Sharples of SHoP Architects presented their ambitious 32 story prefab tower at Atlantic Yards.
Although modular construction has been experimented with for a century, few high-rises have been built using the technique. The latest, built outside of London, reaches twenty-five stories using precast concrete. The first tower of the Atlantic Yards project, B2, will reach seven stories higher, and will be the first with a steel structure.
Ms. Gilmartin and Mr. Sharples explained that B2 would act as Architecture R&D (Research & Development), the first of a dozen or so towers to experiment with modular construction. Devised during the deep recession and amidst vehement community opposition, the prefab towers at Atlantic Yards will accomplish two things: shortened construction time (an estimated six to eight months) and lower construction costs. And with a dozen towers in the works at Atlantic Yards, the process could only become more efficient as each tower is completed.
Mr. Ratner and Mr. Sharples are hopeful that prefab towers could very well become a fixture in major cities across the United States. But only after completing B2 will they know for sure.

The "vehement community opposition" predates the recession; the implication appears to be that shortened construction time would have less of a community impact. Unmentioned is how this process, by lowering construction costs, would upend promises Forest City Ratner made to construction unions.


Three months leading up to its inauguration by Jay-Z, the Forum hosted a tour with Forest City Ratner of the Barclays Center, the arena at the heart of the Atlantic Yards project in Downtown Brooklyn. Winthrop Hoyt, Assistant Vice President of Development in charge of the arena project, sorted through the project’s history, from the Gehry master plan through the new arena design by SHoP Architects to its scheduled completion at the end of September 2012.
Aside from the challenges of building a 15,000 seat arena in an urban setting, the Barclays Center had the added hurdles of the New York MTA and the LIRR, subway and commuter rails that required approval at every step of the process. Additionally, the incredible difficulty of building an arena in a lukewarm economic climate required a more affordable construction process. SHoP Architects managed to pick up the project and accomplish both, with prefabricated steel cladding and a scheme for retractable seating that would allow for versatile uses with a far smaller footprint.
Upon its completion in September 2012, the Barclays Center will be a cornerstone project in the evolving cultural infrastructure of Brooklyn, as well as a new icon for Downtown Brooklyn. Although the housing component of the Atlantic Yards will not be completed for several more years, the arena will likely begin the substantial and divisive redevelopment of the Prospect Heights and Fort Greene neighborhoods.

The arena's about 18,000 seats for basketball, potentially more (but often less) for other events, depending on the size of the stage and the importance of 360-degree views. Actually, "retractable seating" hasn't been mentioned much. The New York Times reported in January, regarding plans for hockey:

Retractable seats will mostly be collapsed on one end, closest to the Atlantic Terminal side, and therefore the alignment around the rink will resemble a horseshoe.

Will the arena "likely begin the substantial and divisive redevelopment of the Prospect Heights and Fort Greene neighborhoods"? I think the "substantial" part already happened. The "divisive" part, surely, was accelerated by the announcement of Atlantic Yards.

As for "several more years," it's a real wildcard.

The "incredible difficulty of building and arena in a lukewarm economic climate" should be counterbalanced by the significant opportunity for sponsorships and publicity in the nation's media market.


Posted by steve at 4:16 PM

August 9, 2012

Do Basketball Arenas Spur Economic Development?

The Atlantic Cities
by Richard Florida

Three guesses, and the first two don't count.

Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the Nets' generously tax-payer subsidized new home, was originally sold to the borough as a showcase for starchitect Frank Gehry (who ended up not designing it). It was supposed to be the anchor of a vast office and residential complex, The Atlantic Yards, which has yet to be built and will likely be downscaled. As neighborhood residents brace themselves for monster traffic jams and noisy crowds in anticipation of its September opening, a compelling new study by Geoffrey Propheter of George Washington University in The Journal of Urban Affairs sheds new light on precisely the question that should have been addressed before ground was broken: Are basketball arenas catalysts of economic development, or not?

Major public financing for arenas began in the 1950s and 1960s as older stadiums built in the early 1900s began to show signs of age. By the 1970s, a majority of major sports venues were publically subsidized. The study notes than "since 2004, voters in five cities have supported more than $1.5 billion in tax subsidies for new sports facilities or upgrades to existing ones."

Sports boosters claim the new stadiums bring economic benefits and add to a city’s "big league" status. But objective academic studies have countered this view, noting that stadiums add little in the way of actual economic benefit.


Posted by eric at 12:37 PM

July 22, 2012

Undoing development promises, in Chelsea and in Prospect Heights: shouldn't there be a quid pro quo?

Atlantic Yards Report

There's a telling passage at the end of a 7/18/12 New York Observer article, Chelsea Marketing: Expansion Fits With Beloved Building’s Past, But What About Chelsea’s Future?, about the controversial plans to build on top of the Chelsea Market building, to take advantage of the High Line:

Architect Gregg Pasquarelli knows a thing or two about additions on top of Chelsea buildings. His SHoP Architects, better known for the Barclays Center and East River Esplanade, designed the Porter House across the street from the market. It happens to be one of the firm’s first successes, the dark metal box with the vertical lights running through it, perched atop the yellow-brick Old Homestead Steakhouse.

Mr. Pasquarelli has called it home since it opened a decade ago, and he said he welcomes his new neighbor, even if it will block his view.

“What’s wrong with congestion?” he asks. “I’m all for congestion, it’s the lifeblood of the city. The neighborhood can handle the density.”

This is the way New York, Chelsea, Nabisco, has always been developing. The city, Google, needs the space, needs the money. There is nowhere else to go but up. A development promise has been undone. It is not the first time, and it will not be the last. At least this is taking place atop an already big building in an already crowded district.

“I just wish they had been a little more ambitious with their design,” Mr. Pasquarelli said. “It’s fairly suburban.”

I don't know the issue well enough to judge whether the "neighborhood can handle the density," but I'll note that that's been an argument for Atlantic Yards: sure, the neighborhood can handle more density, but, for example, the amount of open space per person would actually go down, not increase, despite the much-promised eight acres of open space.

Undoing development promises

Writer Matt Chaban's observation ("A development promise has been undone. It is not the first time, and it will not be the last.") is both true and nonjudgmental.

Should one of the lingering questions be: when development promises are undone (see: Atlantic Yards), shouldn't there be consequences? For example, when developer Forest City Ratner renegotiated the Vanderbilt Yard deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, saving money by paying only $20 million down (instead of $100 million), and building a smaller railyard, the MTA extracted nothing in return.

The not-so-radical Regional Plan Association recommended "granting the MTA a greater portion of future proceeds, conducting a new cost benefit analysis and creating a new ESDC subsidiary to review design elements and oversee the development process as it goes through different iterations."

Didn't happen.


Posted by steve at 10:00 PM

July 10, 2012

Berman’s Children

by Andrew Jacobs

An interesting piece exploring the common threads tying together the historic preservation movement, eminent domain, and Atlantic Yards.

Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights Historic District comprises over 850 buildings, mostly Neo-Grec, Romanesque, and Renaissance Revival rowhouses from the mid- to late 19th century. The District occupies the bulk of a parallelogram formed by Eastern Parkway and Atlantic, Flatbush, and Washington Avenues. Of the 102 historic districts in New York City’s five boroughs, only four are larger than the one in Prospects Heights.

At the northern edge of the District sits the construction site of Atlantic Yards. Infamously, the twenty-two acres of land were in part purchased by Forest City Ratner (FCR) and in part handed over by the state of New York through the exercise of eminent domain. Announced in 2003, Atlantic Yards was initially to contain a Frank Gehry–designed complex of residential towers and an arena for the Brooklyn (née New Jersey) Nets. Since then, largely economic troubles have led to a cost-conscious redesign — Gehry’s out, prefab’s in — and a de facto extension of the completion schedule from ten to twenty-five years.

Efforts to designate the Prospect Heights Historic District began in 2006 and came to fruition in the summer of 2009. The Yards, in some sense, created the District.


Posted by eric at 11:30 AM

June 22, 2012

Effort to reduce required parking in Downtown Brooklyn moves ahead, supported by Forest City Ratner, other developers

Atlantic Yards Report

Forest City Ratner, among other developers, supports a cut in required parking in Downtown Brooklyn, a possible precedent for a similar cut in parking attached to the Atlantic Yards housing planned nearby.

Streetsblog reported yesterday, in Developers, CB 2: Let’s Repurpose Downtown Brooklyn’s Empty Parking:

Parking reform in Downtown Brooklyn doesn’t go far enough, said developers at a public hearing last night, and the land use committee of Brooklyn Community Board 2 agreed. They want reduced parking requirements to apply not only to new buildings, as proposed by the Department of City Planning, but also to existing buildings and developments under construction. This would allow developers to convert empty floors of parking into retail, housing, or office space.

...Indirectly, making parking reform retroactive could also allow future developments to be built without parking, despite the continued existence of parking minimums. Existing buildings could rent out no-longer-required spaces to satisfy the parking requirements for new projects going up nearby, confirmed Purnima Kapur, director of DCP’s Brooklyn office.

The call for retroactively reducing parking requirements was echoed by representatives from Two Trees Management Company, Forest City Ratner, 388 Bridge and The Hub. Between all of their Downtown Brooklyn projects, hundreds of parking spaces could be repurposed.


Posted by eric at 12:33 PM

June 10, 2012

A protest today about accountability, and the need for oversight when public-private projects have a significant private upside

Atlantic Yards Report

Today's Atlantic Yards protest is about the failure to deliver on promises, but ultimately about accountability, the fundamental issue regarding Atlantic Yards.

At the same time, endless process and too much public input, as Atlantic Yards backers argue in opposing a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, cause further delays and continued litigation.

So, how to balance democracy, accountability, and progress?

The NIMBY crowd

That question was raised in Brooklynite Will Doig's 5/26/12 Salon column When the 1 percent say no: Cities need public transit and affordable housing. But outdated laws make it easy for the wealthy to block progress:

For years, Beverly Hills has been trying to derail the planned alignment of the West Side Subway Extension, saying it would be safer to run it beneath Santa Monica Boulevard (though their own study indicates otherwise). The threat of lawsuits and endless public hearings have delayed the project but not killed it; now opponents have released a video claiming that the subway could ignite pockets of methane gas and blow the school to bits....
You could make an equally scary video about the dangers of NIMBYism, which has essentially become an official part of the urban planning process in many cities. From bike lanes in Brooklyn to desperately needed housing in D.C., public micromanagement has become such a problem that several cities are now trying to rein in the Not-In-My-Backyard crowd. “The current process does not work for anyone,” one urban design expert told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We want the Planning Commission to focus on big planning issues, not micro-design issues.”

I mostly agree with Doig, but question his tone: are "the anti-development gadflies who have time to go to years of public hearings" really worse for the public interest than the lawyers and public relations professionals paid big bucks to attend them--at least when the hearings concern projects that might be better described as private-public?

And one of the reasons people get alarmed about projects like Atlantic Yards is that city and state planners never contemplated plans for the potentially valuable Vanderbilt Yard and adjacent property. Also, two courts have essentially said that Empire State Development Corporation mislead the public in failing to study a project that could last 25 years.


Posted by steve at 9:22 AM

May 20, 2012

Amanda Burden gets buffed (again) in the Times; what's missing: where things didn't work out as promised (BK waterfront, Downtown Brooklyn), where the city punted (Atlantic Yards), and the failure to plan

Atlantic Yards Report

City Planning Commissioner Chairwoman Amanda Burden a mostly laudatory profile in today's New York Times Metropolitan section, Amanda Burden Wants to Remake New York. She Has 19 Months Left., which lets the protagonist claim, “I like to say that our ambitions are as broad and far-reaching as those of Robert Moses, but we judge ourselves by Jane Jacobs’s standards."

The writer, real estate reporter Julie Satow, gives a nod to a few critics of Burden, but not author Roberta Brandes Gratz, who demolished that supposed Jacobs/Moses duality in her book The Battle for Gotham, or others who've blanched at Burden's arrogance.

Nor is there any sober criticism from a mainstream figure like Alex Garvin--who, the article reveals, was Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's choice for the post Burden got--who has consistently warned that the city has failed to support "the public realm," parks and transportation improvements that would more organically support and drive growth.

There's a lot in the article about Burden's elegant appearance and Social Register background, but the reporter ignores or forgets several examples, including Atlantic Yards, Downtown Brooklyn, the Fourth Avenue rezoning, Yankee Stadium, and the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront, where things didn't work out as Burden planned or professed. (Here's an epic critique of Burden, from Noticing New York's Michael D.D. White in September 2008.)

Nor does Burden's cheerleading for eminent domain, as with the Columbia University expansion or the (very different-than-planned) Willets Point rezoning, get a nod.


Posted by steve at 11:05 AM

May 17, 2012

Building the Next New York: the RPA's recommendations for mega-projects implies avoidance of Atlantic Yards pattern, though report suggests no verdict yet on project

Atlantic Yards Report

With "advocacy" groups like RPA, who needs developers?

The Regional Plan Association has just issued Building the Next New York: Recommendations for Large Real Estate Projects, which offers some sober criticisms of Atlantic Yards while analyzing a range of large development initiatives in order to propose some recommendations.

The business-oriented, rational RPA--self-described as "America's oldest and most distinguished independent urban research and advocacy group"--says it's too soon to come to a verdict on Atlantic Yards, a project it offered support mixed with suggestions for reform.

However careful in not making such a judgment, the RPA surely learned some lessons from Atlantic Yards. "These projects are enormously complex and can take a generation or more to build," said RPA President Robert Yaro. "This makes it essential to maintain both flexibility and a public stake throughout the life of the project."

That sounds like an acknowledgment that the significant changes in Atlantic Yards should not have been surprising--but that the government agencies approving those changes should have done more to represent the public interest.


Posted by eric at 11:51 AM

May 13, 2012

Looking beyond the NYU deal: the failure to plan

Atlantic Yards Report

This is late of course, but the 4/9/12 comment on New York University's expansion plan by's Jacqueline Hlavenka, IN THE KNOW: What NYC Needs to Do About NYU 2031, contains some larger lessons:

Whether you agree or disagree with the project, there’s one huge flaw that sticks out in the city’s overall planning process here. For all its proposals, studies, special zoning districts and other tools available to the public, the New York City Department of Planning has no institutional master plan in place, as thoughtfully pointed out by Gary Hack, professor of urban design and former dean of PennDesign at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design at the Municipal Art Society’s recent debate about the project.
..I am not for or against the project in either way. NYU, a strong economic contributor to the Village economy and one of the city’s top employers, has a need to compete on a international level with other universities in the wake of global competition. The West Village, on the other hand, is one of the city’s most cherished historic neighborhoods that should be protected and valued for generations to come. Striking a deal between these two has – and always has been – a delicate balancing act.

What's missing

Compromise, the author suggests, would be a challenge. (Borough President Scott Stringer ultimately managed, to the frustration of those organizing against the plan.) But the author quotes a veteran of the Atlantic Yards battle and a former City Planning Commissioner:

But as Ronald Shiffman, a professor at Pratt’s Graduate Center for Planning, so eloquently put it, “it is important that we look at this in its full-dimension rather than just a real estate deal.”

That was true with Atlantic Yards, and it's true today.


Posted by steve at 9:55 PM

April 28, 2012

North Flatbush BID: No Hooters on Flatbush Avenue

Atlantic Yards Report

A tweet from the North Flatbush Business Improvement District:


Posted by steve at 5:35 PM

Some Residents Fear Sidewalks Won’t Be Able To Handle Crowds From Barclays Center

CBS New York

When 18,000 spectators pour out of a Nets game at the new Barclays Center, the sidewalks in downtown Brooklyn won’t be able to contain the crowds, advocates claim.

A report by the Atlantic Yards Watch found 86 percent of the sidewalks are narrower than the state originally claimed when the Atlantic Yards project got started.

“On Dean Street between Sixth and Carlton Avenues the sidewalk was assessed to be an effective width of 10.5 feet but it’s really got an effective width of 3.5 feet,” Peter Krashes, of Atlantic Yards Watch, said.

Some are concerned crowds will spill into the streets posing a safety hazard and further tying up traffic in an area already jammed with cars and cabs.

“If you go to other arenas you can see how people react when sidewalks aren’t big enough, they go into the street,” resident David Goldstein said. “That’s a safety issue.”


Posted by steve at 5:27 PM

April 15, 2012

Atlantic Yards Mega-mistake Shipwrecks on the 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic

Noticing New York

T.S. Eliot had some ideas about April being the cruelest month. Today, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, political cartoonist Mark Hurwitt has a befitting image (above) depicting the current state of the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly debacle.

The Titanic sank on April 15th after it hit the iceberg on April 14th, just as Lincoln succumbed on April 15th after being shot in Ford’s Theater on the 14th. Aside from mid-April bringing us our April 15th IRS deadline it seems wont to bring us some other big events. Just days ago the New York York Appellate Division ruled unanimously that the Atlantic Yards mega-project, part of the 30+ acres of Ratner’s proposed mega-monopoly,was never legitimately approved, given deceptions by the Ratner people and the State’s Empire State Development public authority (ESDC). (See: Thursday, April 12, 2012, Appellate Court smacks down ESD, upholds decision ordering new study of long-term Atlantic Yards impact, requires new approval of Phase II; Forest City reminds us: it doesn't affect arena.)

The deceptions, which meant that Ratner and ESDC consciously avoided considering substantial negative impacts of his mega-project to the community, were practiced by Ratner and ESDC partly so that Ratner could illegitimately meet an IRS deadline (shades of April15th!) without which the Prokhorov/Ratner basketball arena would probably never have proceeded. Ratner and ESDC were falsely asserting that Ratner would fully construct his mega-monopoly with a ten-year time frame while concealing their expectation and plans for it to take multiple decades.

After hitting the iceberg the Titanic broke up. The court ruling means that the environmental impact of the Ratner’s proposed mega-monopoly must be freshly considered (as it was never actually properly considered at all) and that means that one of the prospective effects of such consideration is that what was once considered as one huge mega-project solely owned by Ratner may now be broken up into multiple parcels to be developed by multiple smaller (better) developers as, for instance, is envisioned in the community’s UNITY Plan. It’s the better way to go.


Posted by steve at 9:40 PM

April 7, 2012

Behind the Times's Yankee Stadium story, a rather shameful failure to pursue balance and serve readers, according to an expert and parks advocate

Atlantic Yards Report

Geoffrey Croft, president, NYC Park Advocates, sends a corrective letter in response to my analysis yesterday of the New York Times's cheerleading coverage of the belated ballfields constructed next to Yankee Stadium, Yankee Stadium controversy down the memory hole: prominent coverage of belated ballfields, no dissenters heard.

His letter is pretty disturbing--and I haven't checked with the Times-- but I did ask him if he was comfortable with me publishing it, and he said yes. His main point: the Times completely ignored dissenting voices, and that's part of a pattern. (Here's more on Croft, from Crain's; be sure to check the comments.)

Unfortunately this is not what has transpired, its a lot more irresponsible than that.

On Monday I took Winnie Hu, a reporter known for her non-critical coverage of the administration, on a tour of the area. She experienced the 20- minute walk along highways and the filthy dangerous parkland along the Harlem River to get to the replacement tennis courts from the old ones that had previously been located in the community. She learned these courts - located in the South Bronx- charge up to $80 an hour. She repeatedly said how expensive that was. Ms. Hu was even told by an employee of the tennis concession that the cafe which they are building on city parkland will be for "members only. "

On our hour plus walk she was informed about the permanent loss of parkland in the community including two ballfields in the shadow of Yankee Stadium no less; she saw the parking garage that replaced a 2.9-acre ballfield which is not going to be replaced; She saw the artificial turf field built on top of a parking garage in the asthma capital of America that regularly reaches temperatures of 145 degrees and greater; she was made aware of the $300 million dollars associated with the replacement parks, not $195 million as she reported.

A week before our tour she was made aware of the our original Broken Promises report, which she said she looked at. She was given access to a few draft pages of our soon-to-be completed, updated Broken Promises report, which goes into great detail of the numerous issues associated with this project including the three-year delay in replacing some park facilities and the fact that there is not a single penny of dedicated funding allocated to maintain these parks. Unfortunately the list goes on and on.

"As I mentioned they will be on high spin mode as this has been a major embarrassment for the administration on the highest levels," I wrote to the reporter in an email a few days before our tour. "For a while Parks including Adrian weren't even allowed to respond to media inquires re: the Yankee/replacement park issues because of the all bs they got caught on. (All requests had to go through City Hall.)"

After our tour she met with seven officials from the city and people associated with the building of Heritage field who were happy to try and make the controversy disappear. The Times complied.


According to the New York Times, everything is swell in Yankee replacement park land. I'm happy the Times reporter thought the fields looked nice, and her reporting discovered people playing on them on the first day they were open felt the same. With the enormous taxpayer funds used to build them and the delay is this really a story, much less a front-page story? Obviously not.

They chose not to report on a story that impacts some of the poorest people in the country. This is shameful, irresponsible, but unfortunately not surprising.


Posted by steve at 3:10 PM

December 18, 2011

New towers coming to Downtown Brooklyn would top Williamsburgh bank building and Brooklyner; WSJ forgets that Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was to geared toward offices

Atlantic Yards Report

In a 12/12/11 article headlined Developers Launch Battle Of Brooklyn, the Wall Street Journal reported:

The battle to build Brooklyn's tallest tower is about to begin with two developers planning to break ground next year on residential buildings that will loom nearly 100 feet over any of their predecessors.

At the beginning of next year, Stahl Real Estate, a company with 60-year roots in the borough, will break ground on a 590-foot tower at 388 Bridge St. That would make it the borough's new tallest tower.

But its reign could be short-lived. By late next year AvalonBay Communities Inc. plans to begin building its new Willoughby West project just down the street, which will rise 57 stories and 596 feet, adding 861 new rental units to the market.

The developments will continue a shift for brownstone-dotted Brooklyn, which has been seeing a steady growth in the number of luxury apartment towers. (Emphasis added)


Actually, as the Journal's map shows, the developments are located in rezoned Downtown Brooklyn, which is not "brownstone-dotted."

The newspaper pointed out that the towers are enabled by the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, but not that the rezoning was mainly geared toward enabling new office towers (jobs), not new housing.


Posted by steve at 7:59 PM

December 8, 2011

Some Thoughts On Modern Architecture

Grub Street

Congratulations, Bruce Ratner! Even down under, your Brooklyn megaproject is synonymous with the sterile and mundane.

Compare Southbank and Docklands to South Yarra and Collingwood. Compare Canary Wharf to Bloomsbury. Compare Atlantic Yards to Greenwich Village. Which of these areas are indisputably the heart and soul of their respective cities? Which of them, on the other hand, feel like generic committee-designed redevelopment projects where everything, even the roads and footpaths, was built from scratch and is unsettlingly new? A Ballardian landscape of skin-crawlingly clean modern architecture?


Posted by eric at 10:38 AM

December 3, 2011

Times architecture critic Kimmelman embraces planner Garvin's take on the "public realm" and the need to put the public first, calls Atlantic Yards "ill-conceived"

Atlantic Yards Report

Those of us who've followed the work of urban planner and scholar Alexander Garvin know he likes to talk about "the public realm," what he calls (as he did three years ago) "the quality of life of a great city,” including streets, squares, transportation systems, schools, public buildings, and parks.

So it's no surprise he spoke similarly in an walkabout interview, scheduled for the cover of tomorrow's New York Times Arts & Leisure section, with new New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, headlined Treasuring Urban Oases.

What is surprising--though less so with each article--is that Kimmelman continues to emphasize the impact of architecture on the city as a whole, rather than focus mainly on spectacular new buildings.

Writes Kimmelman, laying out the fundamentals:

“The public realm is what we own and control,” [Garvin] told me the other day when we met to look around Midtown. More than just common property, he added, “the streets, squares, parks, infrastructure and public buildings make up the fundamental element in any community — the framework around which everything else grows.”

Thinking first about public space

And the critic takes an implied shot on his predecessors, Nicolai Ouroussoff and Herbert Muschamp:

We’ve been so fixated on fancy new buildings that we’ve lost sight of the spaces they occupy and we share. Last month Mr. Garvin addressed a conclave of architects, planners and public officials from around the country and abroad, who met on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of New York’s landmark 1961 zoning resolution. That resolution established the incentive program for private developers, whereby developers construct public spaces — plaza “bonuses,” in zoning lingo — in return for bigger buildings. Acres of some of the costliest real estate in town have been turned into arcades and squares as a consequence, but sheer space, the urban sociologist Holly Whyte famously observed, is not “of itself” what people need or want. Quality, not quantity, is the issue. Mr. Garvin argues that the city should reverse its approach, zoning neighborhoods like Midtown, Lower Manhattan and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, by thinking first about the shape of public space instead of private development.

Why big projects like Atlantic Yards are "ill-conceived"

And while Garvin walks around midtown with Kimmelman, Atlantic Yards gets a prominent mention:

The Dutch today put together what they call “structure plans” when they undertake big new public projects, like their high-speed rail station in Rotterdam: before celebrity architects show up, urban designers are called in to work out how best to organize the sites for the public good. It’s a formalized, fine-grained approach to the public realm. By contrast, big urban projects on the drawing board in New York still tend to be the products of negotiations between government agencies anxious for economic improvement and private developers angling for zoning exemptions. As with the ill-conceived Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, the streets, subway entrances and plazas around Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, where millions of New Yorkers will actually feel the development’s effects, seem like they’ve hardly been taken into account.


Posted by steve at 5:29 PM

November 24, 2011

The Atlantic Yards site in (crazy-quilt) zoning context

Atlantic Yards Report

The Department of City Planning's new Zoning and Land Use application, aka ZoLa, offers a new way to find city zoning and other rules, though the department cautions that it "is provided solely for informational purposes," with no promises of accuracy.

Indeed, a look at the area around and including the Atlantic Yards site shows that the map had not caught up with reality, as Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, and Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, and between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, had not been demapped.

Moreover, several buildings remain on the site, whereas now all of those needed for the first phase are gone, and that little triangle just east of the C6-2 designation, home to the Brooklyn Bear's Garden, seems to be designated as vacant land.

But what is remarkable is the diversity of the site, a railyard north of Pacific Street zoned for low-rise manufacturing (M-1), a western parcel zoned for big development (C6-1), a southeast block zoned mainly for manufacturing, neighboring "fingers" outlined in heavy blue indicating a historic district, residential on Pacific and Dean streets in the southwest portion of the site, and commercial overlays on Flatbush (including within the site), and on Vanderbilt bordering the site.

No wonder developer Forest City Ratner sought and got a state override of zoning....


Posted by eric at 11:16 AM

November 22, 2011

A "Brooklyn version of Roppongi Hills"? Could densifying New York make Atlantic Yards site look like Tokyo?

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes issue with New York Magazine architecture critic Justin Davidson's contention that Atlantic Yards could be like Tokyo's Roppongi Hills neighborhood.

First of all, the term "at Atlantic Yards" obscures the nature of the site. "Atlantic Yards" is the name for a proposed dense development site, in some cases--like a good chunk of the 100 feet east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets--not yet controlled by the developer or state.

Nor is an "arena surrounded by a vast hole." Actually, the site is long, not round, as with Roppongi Hills, at [right] (map credit here).

The arena's got some spaces bordering it for future development, and a temporary plaza. There's a huge surface parking lot two blocks away, a yet-unbuilt skyscraper site occupied by P.C. Richard/Modell's (aka Site 5), and a mostly working railyard that's undergoing reconstruction.

A "Brooklyn version of Roppongi Hills"?

Arguably, the original project plan--an arena wrapped by four towers would something closer to the spirit of Roppongi Hills. However, that plan included ideas already scotched, such as a park and running track on the arena roof.

The rest of the Atlantic Yards site, given its increased distance from transit, makes it an even less likely candidate to be Roppongi Hills.

According to Virtual Japan, the 27-acre Roppongi Hills emphasizes both height and public space, with fewer than 800 apartments (versus 6430 planned for Atlantic Yards), meaning that the density refers to office/cultural/retail uses more than residential....


Posted by eric at 1:16 PM

November 20, 2011

Notes from a conference on zoning: scrap parking minimums, the argument for competitiveness, and a dissent

Atlantic Yards Report

A major conference last week in New York titled Zoning the City inspired commentary, including this one about a certain lack of imagination on the part of Mayor Bloomberg. An emphasis on only large projects can produce inappropriate results, as in Atlantic Yards.

The Design Observer's Alexandra Lange, in Who Are We Competing For?:

Back when I was writing stories about the Doctoroff era for New York, I remember asking, "Why the focus on Class A office space? Don't we need Class B and C too?" And I remember wondering, "Why spend all this money on out-of-towners? What about the people already here?" Their strategic focus was so lofty, so much on the top maybe 15 percent, on skyscrapers, on new convention centers, on new waterfronts, that it seemed to leave no room for what was happening on the ground.

...What also struck me in several post-administration presentations was a lack of adaptability, an inability to understand alternate perspectives on appropriate goals. Early in the day, a man stood up and asked how zoning could help the owner of a 25x100 lot with some extra FAR [Floor Area Ratio]. At first there was no response, but later, someone suggested that the smallholders could get together, and use a version of the High Line's cap-and-trade zoning to build a tall building on the avenue and off their street. Fine, but as the owner of a 25x75 foot lot (that's a brownstone), what I and my neighbors might much rather do is band together and trade our FAR for a park. Why must all moves be monetary, and upward? Indeed, what about the public life legendary planning consultant Alex Garvin kept vaunting?

And a comment from John Massengale:

Do we agree on this? - No matter how many times Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry use the word "progressive," they are building for the 1%.


Posted by steve at 9:55 PM

November 5, 2011

Noticing New York: Amanda Burden's reputation gets buffed again, in "Urbanized"

Atlantic Yards Report

City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden gets a lot of good press, some of it deserved, some of it determinedly amnesiac regarding her acquiescence with the city's willingness to let the state oversee Atlantic Yards.

In the new documentary film "Urbanized," as Michael D. D. White explains in Noticing New York, Burden's reputation gets buffed again, but it's not fully deserved:

Not mentioned is that, in the case of the Atlantic Yards mega-project which she helped enable, all these “basic parameters” of zoning that had been set were overridden so the developer could do whatever he wanted to maximize his own best possibilities over those of the community, including his choice to eliminate and absorb into his private ownership formerly public streets, sidewalks and avenues.

For more, go to Noticing New York.


Posted by steve at 8:36 PM

October 18, 2011

ESDC's flawed analysis of sidewalk widths highlights risk in privatizing arena planning and oversight

Atlantic Yards Watch

Rarely does a day go by that the Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact Statement, and corresponding reports, isn't proved increasingly worthless.

In response to an AYW story showing the effective sidewalk widths on the arena block are going to be narrower than ESDC's 2006 environmental analysis has assessed, the agency's environmental monitor HDR submitted a Technical Memorandum to the Department of Transportation revising effective sidewalk widths and reassessing the sidewalks' level of service.

But HDR's Technical Memorandum about the arena block's sidewalks is flawed as well. It incorrectly applies its own formula for assessing effective sidewalk widths. As a result of that mistake the Technical Memorandum overstates the effective widths of numerous sidewalks on the arena block by several feet. And HDR uses outdated pedestrian numbers from the 2006 FEIS even though the sidewalk conditions being analyzed should be based on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan.

As a result, the level of service calculations (which relate the number of pedestrians anticipated to use a sidewalk in a period of peak use to the sidewalk's capacity) are invalid and should not be accepted.


Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, From Atlantic Yards Watch: "privatizing arena planning and oversight" leads to flawed analysis of sidewalk width, capacity

The problem: private planning

From AY Watch:

In arguing for the approval of FCRC's plans for bollards on the arena block at the DOT hearing October 5th, Assistant Vice President Sonya Covington stated that the plans followed two years of coordination with government agencies and that the Technical Memorandum had been produced to address changes to sidewalk widths from what was originally anticipated in 2006.

The reality is the opposite. At a critical time in which the operational, demand management and security plans for Barclays Center are being developed behind closed doors, the bollard plans provide a small window into how and who is shaping the plans.

We're still waiting for the Department of Transportation to respond, and for Empire State Development (Corporation) to convene the once-promised Transportation Working Group.

Posted by eric at 10:38 AM

NYCHA Chairman: Parking Minimums “Working Against Us”

by Noah Kazis

The New York CIty Housing Authority is aiming to undo the kind of failed urban development that Bruce Ratner plans to do with Atlantic Yards.

Leaders in New York City’s public housing community are interested in transforming city-owned superblocks into mixed-use, mixed-income communities that engage with the pedestrian realm. There are of course many obstacles to this kind of ambitious project, but only one was identified specifically in a Municipal Art Society panel on the topic last Friday: the city’s own parking requirements.

Developing existing NYCHA land could bring a wide variety of benefits to both public housing residents and the surrounding communities, said John Rhea, the chairman of NYCHA, and his fellow panel members.

Infill development, said Rhea, means “we can do a lot more to ensure that the income diversity is stronger.”

Infill development also would allow the city to undo some of the design drawbacks of the tower-in-a-park style housing project, common in many parts of the city. A plan put forward by Rosanne Haggerty, the president of the homelessness prevention organization Community Solutions, for four adjacent housing projects in Brownsville would build between 700 and 1,000 units without displacing a single resident, she said. Her organization’s design would break up the existing superblock by restoring the original streets back through the housing project and put new buildings facing the sidewalk, recreating the traditional pedestrian environment. “Those blocks can reknit into the surrounding street grid,” said Haggerty. Surface parking lots would be replaced with new housing, retail, schools and green space under Haggerty’s plan.

Standing in the way of this kind of revitalization, however, are the city’s antiquated parking requirements.


NoLandGrab: As Norman Oder has written, Atlantic Yards is PlaNYC1950.

Posted by eric at 9:20 AM

October 14, 2011

MAS Survey on Livability: fuzzy findings on "Big Real Estate Development," overall good news on public satisfaction, and reasons for caution

Atlantic Yards Report

At the second annual MAS Summit for New York City, the Municipal Art Society released its second annual MAS Survey on Livability, which included some fuzzy findings under the rubric of Attitudes toward Big Real Estate Development:

While overall the majority (62%) of New Yorkers think large Real Estate Development in a neighborhood is a good idea, only about 4 out of 10 think it makes the city a better place to live, and nearly one third think it makes no difference.
• Maintaining Neighborhood Character

o New Yorkers divide when it comes to real estate development at the expense of a neighborhood’s character. 51% think the city should invest in real estate development that will create jobs even if it changes the character of a neighborhood, while a similar proportion (49%) say the City should only support development that retains a neighborhood’s character. 60% of Manhattanites support the investment of Real Estate Development that maintains the character of a neighborhood, while only 43% in Brooklyn, 45% in Queens, and 44% in the Bronx do.
o More than half of Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens residents support Real Estate Development that will create jobs even if it changes the character of a neighborhood, as opposed to residents of Manhattan (40%) and Staten Island (47%).

The question was worded differently from the question in last year's survey, which suggested wariness toward housing built out of neighborhood scale. Given today's economy, there surely is more willingness to accept development that brings jobs.


Posted by eric at 9:44 AM

October 13, 2011

Is there a future for long-term planning and more community input? Maybe in the Stringer administration, discussion suggests

Atlantic Yards Report

There was no specific mention of Atlantic Yards at a 10/6/11 panel at The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs titled Community-Based Planning: The Future of Development in New York.

However, for those of us familiar with the project there were lots of echoes: the diminished role of local voices, the failure to plan comprehensively, the willingness to let developers take the lead, and the recognition that the city must accommodate increased density near transit in order to grow.


Posted by eric at 11:06 AM

October 12, 2011

The Witold Rybczynski Interview by Brendan Crain


From an interview with author/architect/academician Witold Rybczynski:

Jacobs definitely espoused density + a mixture of uses. In “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” she wrote almost exclusively about Greenwich Vilage, which is an extreme example of both. I don’t think you have to interpret Jacobs literally to be influenced by her, and like almost all town planners post-DLGAC, the New Urbanism movement has found inspiration in her writing. It is true, as Robert A. M. Stern pointed out in his recent adress to the CNU convention in Philadelphia a few months ago, that the accomplishments of New Urbanism have had more to do with suburbs than with city centers so they have usually been built at lower densities. That has partly to do with the market in the 1980s, when New Urbanism started. Today, a few developers have figured out how to do high-density, mixed-use and we are seeing more new construction along those lines (Atlantic Yards, for example).


NoLandGrab: If by "figured out" Rybczynski means "figured out how to get the government to seize the land, grab lots of subsidies, divide communities through race-baiting, make empty promises and turn a neighborhood upside down with 24/7 construction," then yes, Forest City Ratner has "figured out" how to do high-density, mixed-use, if by "mixed-use" he means "a basketball arena and huge surface parking lot."

As Norman Oder points out in the comments, Rybczynski was much more critical of Atlantic Yards in an interview last December with WNYC's Leonard Lopate.

Posted by eric at 11:35 AM

October 10, 2011

Why Not Build A City?

Think Progress: Yglesias
by Matthew Yglesias

Washington, D.C. has the opportunity to do a reverse-Ratner: tear down a stadium and build a neighborhood.

The Washington Post has various people debate what to do with the obsolete RFK Stadium facility in DC:

It’s striking to me how unpopular what I think the obvious and roughly correct solution is. The structure should be demolished and the empty land plus the open air parking lots should be sold to builders to build . . . whatever. An urban neighborhood with houses and some stores. You’re talking about a big parcel of land that’s right by a Metro station offering a convenient 10 minute commute to the House-side of the Capitol. If you build some houses, people will live there and if people live there they’ll want to shop in some stores and eat in some restaurants. Trying to lure a football team to the location to play eight times a year is insane, but in general “what to do with a bunch of transit accessible land in the middle of a city?” isn’t such a complicated question. Just build more city.


NoLandGrab: If the NBA labor impasse continues much longer, they could build a whole bunch of new neighborhoods.

Posted by eric at 10:39 PM

October 8, 2011

In Architectural Record, a reflection on a decade and an Atlantic Yards asterisk

Atlantic Yards Report

Architectural Record last month produced a package of articles titled The Death and Life of a Great American City, echoing the title of Jane Jacobs's classic 1961 book and focusing on the rebuilding since the 9/11 attacks.

Editor in Chief Cathleen McGuigan's commentary is headlined The only constant is change:

The decade has been a golden age for the city, a renaissance in architecture and urban design. World-class architects have come to build in New York... High-profile local firms have landed big projects on their home turf, while emerging architects have had new opportunities in both private and civic design.
Most remarkable has been the huge investment in the public realm. The High Line, the park created on a derelict elevated rail bed, is the most famous new public space... Less publicized is the fact that since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in January 2002, the city has created more parkland — nearly 700 acres — than in any time since the era of Robert Moses in the 1930s..
. The seeds for this burst of urban regeneration were planted in the 1990s, with the bid to bring the 2012 Olympics to New York....
But it was also the aftermath of 9/11 that catalyzed the public desire for superior design and planning, a shout from ordinary New Yorkers who crowded into community meetings and spoke powerfully about what should be built at Ground Zero....
Jane Jacobs, the late urbanist, whose famous book inspired the title of this issue, might not have been surprised that the rebuilding of Ground Zero has turned out to be a mixed success, with politics and real estate trumping the best intentions. And with a soaring economy and a big push for development under the Bloomberg administration, the decade brought aggressive change to many neighborhoods throughout the city — occasionally to the alarm of critics and communities, as in the case of the controversial Atlantic Yards arena project in Brooklyn.
Yet it’s mostly been a vibrant time for architecture and urban design.

There might be another way to look at it. New Yorkers got to speak about Ground Zero but had little influence. They had even less regarding Atlantic Yards.

And often there's no effective way to channel the concerns of local residents and balance them with borough-wide, city-wide, and regional interests--especially when, as with Atlantic Yards, the city agrees to let the state override the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).


Posted by steve at 9:40 PM

October 7, 2011

No Grand Plan for NYC Development

It's hard to set a course in an ever-changing mega-city

The Epoch Times
by Tara MacIsaac

In a bit of understatement, Atlantic Yards garners a mention as a project that left the community feeling left out.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been advocating for city planners at every level of the community to gain a more comprehensive overall picture. When he took office, only one city planner was on staff. He hired 60.

Stringer wants to see city planners in community organizations, on community boards, and at the borough president's office, as well as a Department of City Planning that communicates better with other agencies. The Departments of Transportation and Education are also important players, he says.

Stringer isn't calling for more power to the city's 52 community boards. He's calling for more funding to give them the tools they need, so they can better advise the City Planning Commission. Community board budgets have not changed in the last nine years, falling far behind inflation, according to Stringer.


NoLandGrab: Yes, Brooklynites have a bad (and well justified) case of Borough President envy.

Posted by eric at 12:27 PM

October 3, 2011

Glut of parking spaces in city

Ancient zoning rules force developer to overbuild. But reforms could reduce number of empty parking spaces.

Crain's NY Business
by Jeremy Smerd

The Department of City Planning knows its 1950s-era parking requirements are outdated and is preparing to issue recommendations for Manhattan and “inner-ring” neighborhoods, such as those in western Brooklyn and Queens. But transportation advocates worry that reforms will fail to dent what they deem an oversupply of parking at large developments.

“We've asserted that limiting parking supply can be a valuable tool to encourage mass transit,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “[The city's] point of view is people will own cars and drive, no matter what.”

Transportation advocates worry that the glut at Yankee Stadium will be replicated at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, which is to have 3,670 parking spots when residential buildings are completed in the project's second phase. Until then, much of the space next to the site's arena, the Barclays Center, will be a blacktop parking lot.

“If the economic conditions change and phase two of the project doesn't go forward, you will have this big empty space in the middle of Brooklyn,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.


NoLandGrab: All the more reason to a) significantly cut the number of parking spaces planned for Atlantic Yards, and b) divide the parcels up, set development guidelines, and auction them off to different bidders.

Posted by eric at 11:28 AM

October 2, 2011

City's outddated parking requirements for residential project near transit hubs (like AY) may get a revamp--but does it matter?

Atlantic Yards Report

In Glut of parking spaces in city: Ancient zoning rules force developer to overbuild. But reforms could reduce number of empty parking spaces. Av, Crain's New York Business reports that two new developments near Downtown Brooklyn's transit offerings, Avalon Fort Greene and [Forest City Ratner's] 80 DeKalb Avenue, have seen only half their parking spaces leased:

Off the streets and under buildings, however, exists a glut of parking spaces, built not to accommodate demand but to comply with zoning that the city has barely updated since the auto boom more than half a century ago.

The result is not just little-used garages in neighborhoods bordered by car-packed curbs, but a policy that seems to be at odds with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's vision of a sustainable city that rationally allocates precious resources and removes barriers to business.

The Department of City Planning knows its 1950s-era parking requirements are outdated and is preparing to issue recommendations for Manhattan and “inner-ring” neighborhoods, such as those in western Brooklyn and Queens. But transportation advocates worry that reforms will fail to dent what they deem an oversupply of parking at large developments.

This is the PlaNYC 1950 that I've written about, and that transportation reformers (and developers) have long been trying to change.

AY impact?

Crain's reports:

Transportation advocates worry that the glut at Yankee Stadium will be replicated at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, which is to have 3,670 parking spots when residential buildings are completed in the project's second phase. Until then, much of the space next to the site's arena, the Barclays Center, will be a blacktop parking lot.

“If the economic conditions change and phase two of the project doesn't go forward, you will have this big empty space in the middle of Brooklyn,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Hold up. The space immediately adjacent to the arena would not be used for parking--rather, the southeast block, Block 1129, is to be a surface parking lot, with parking eventually to be moved underground.

And even if Phase 2 does go forward, given the gentle deadlines for the project--ten years until a building must be constructed on Block 1129--there will be, if not a "big empty space," a big surface parking lot.

What next?

Crain's reports:

A City Planning spokeswoman declined to comment on the policy recommendations it is readying. But sources briefed on the matter said residential garages in Manhattan could be allowed to rent to the public (which many do illicitly), while developments in transit-served areas outside Manhattan may see parking requirements lowered.

Of course, the state overrode zoning for Atlantic Yards so it could have overridden the parking requirements--and still could. So even a city policy change might not affect Atlantic Yards.


Posted by steve at 10:56 PM

September 28, 2011

Atlantic Yards Watch identifies narrower traffic capacity on Sixth Avenue, points to bottleneck for vehicles and pedestrians

Atlantic Yards Report

Here the news from the latest Atlantic Yards Watch posting, 6th Avenue to have fewer travel lanes than's analyzed in the 2006 environmental impact statement:

  • Sixth Avenue was supposed to have four lanes, but now would have three from Atlantic to Pacific and two from Pacific to Flatbush
  • Given increased traffic circulation, congestion "may" be increased (I'd say likely)
  • It's unclear if the change is permanent, because future mitigations may be imposed
  • The state analysis overstated the effective width of the narrow sidewalks on Sixth Avenue south of Dean Street
  • To create additional travel lanes, the sidewalks would have to be narrowed further
  • The sidewalks likely will be heavily used as a route to the arena from Flatbush Avenue and the Bergen Street 2/3 station

My analysis: residents of those blocks will bear the brunt of increased vehicles and pedestrians--and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate both.


Posted by steve at 11:16 AM

September 27, 2011

City Caps Boerum Hill

South Brooklyn Post
by Nicole LaRosa

Local artist Therese Urban fought against the Atlantic Yards development. She’s grateful that the new zoning will keep the rising towers of Downtown Brooklyn out of Boerum Hill.

“Having a lovely neighborhood that has been cared for for 150 years is an important thing in America and it’s an important thing in Brooklyn,” said Urban, 67, a Boerum Hill Association member who raised four children in the leafy enclave.

“There’s a place for everything—in its place.” She welcomes new larger buildings on 3rd and 4th avenues but insists that preserving the charm of the residential streets brings a cohesiveness that was lacking in the area disrupted by the new Barclay Arena stadium.


Related content...

Forbes, The Downzoning Uprising and the Fight Against Density

Similar resistance has emerged across the entire city, where Mayor Bloomberg has aggressively rezoned more than a fifth of its land. Last week, the city council voted unanimously to downzone a swath of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Prompted by the sting of the Atlantic Yards development, the neighborhood turned to downzoning, becoming the eighth brownstone Brooklyn pocket to do so in recent years. It was a move, the neighborhood association leader told the Brooklyn Paper, “to keep Boerum Hill feeling like a small neighborhood.”

Posted by eric at 12:34 PM

September 22, 2011

Brownstone Belt in Boerum Hill downzoned

NY Post
by Sally Goldenberg and Rich Calder

Now all of Brooklyn’s Brownstone Belt is protected from overzealous developers.

The City Council today approved a downzoning plan for a 31-sqaure-block section of Boerum Hill that will cap new development in much of the area at 50 feet.

The height restrictions are similar to ones already in place in other Brownstone neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Park Slope, and Carroll Gardens.

Boerum Hill residents had pushed hard for tough zoning regulations to prevent large towers from rising in their neighborhood as is already planned in nearby Prospect Heights for the controversial Atlantic Yards project.


Posted by eric at 11:11 AM

September 21, 2011

Vote Expected on Rezoning of Boerum Hill

by Janet Babin

New York City Council votes today on whether the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn should get rezoned.

The council vote is the last step in the rezoning process, that could help protect the neighborhood's brownstones.

Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association, said, "The ultimate goal of rezoning is to protect and preserve the type of housing and quality of life that exists. it's a low rise, very green very leafy streets."

Residents rallied for stricter zoning laws after the Atlantic Yards project moved forward in nearby Fort Greene.

Most people place Atlantic Yards in Prospect Heights, though Fort Greene is less inaccurate than "downtown Brooklyn."

The rezoning area includes all or part of the blocks bounded by Atlantic Avenue to the north, 4th Avenue to the east, Warren and Wyckoff streets to the south, and Court Street to the west.


Posted by eric at 11:43 AM

August 22, 2011

Barclays Center will be much closer than 20 feet from street above ground level (though more at sidewalk); also, new documents reveal bollard plan, suggest effective width of sidewalk less than disclosed, creating bottleneck

Atlantic Yards Report

A must-read on security and sidewalks from Norman Oder.

Newly revealed security-related transportation documents for the Atlantic Yards arena indicate that, contrary to previous suggestions that no bollards would be needed, 206 such bollards--178 fixed, 28 removable, one foot in diameter--would be installed at the facility's perimeter.

Moreover, despite previous claims by Forest City Ratner that the arena would be 20 feet from the street, new city documents confirm that the structure would be considerably closer--less than 12 feet--above ground level along Atlantic Avenue, a configuration ambiguously disclosed previously in state documents and obfuscated by the developer. (Click on graphic to enlarge.)

The above graphic, excerpted from a New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) document (below), shows the bollards and tree pits on the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk bordering the north side of arena. It also indicates that the arena's "overhead canopy" essentially meets the property line, which is 11'8" (11.5 ft) from the street.

Further complicating the situation, the new documents reveal that, in the strip of Atlantic Avenue sidewalk just east of the arena, the sidewalk is 9.5 ft wide. Given typical buffer zone subtractions, the effective width of the sidewalk would be 5.5 feet, much less than disclosed in the environmental review and likely a bottleneck for arena-bound pedestrians, as noted by Atlantic Yards Watch.

The DOT is accepting comments on the plans through Thursday, August 25 by email to Emma Berenblit at

The security issue

Would Brooklyn face a situation akin to Newark, where streets surrounding the Prudential Center are closed on game days? The ESDC said "there are no plans to close streets," which does leave some wiggle room.

As the New York Times reported 11/27/07:

[Forest City Ratner spokesman] Mr. [Loren] Riegelhaupt confirmed that this meant that at all points, the arena would be set back at least 20 feet from the street.

...That is the same distance as the Newark arena is from its neighboring streets. So what’s different about the Atlantic Yards arena? That, Mr. Riegelhaupt said, is a security question, to be directed to the Police Department. The Police Department has said that its policy is not to comment on such matters.

Riegelhaupt's answer may have been narrowly true--at all ground level points, the arena would be set back at least 20 feet from the street, but the question should be: what about when the arena is less than 20 feet from the street above ground level?

Forest City Ratner and the New York Police Department have surely had many high-level discussions on security. But shouldn't they explain, at least in outline, why the Brooklyn design is safer than the one in Newark? Or make the case that Newark is overreacting?

After all, plans have already changed. A NYPD spokesman told the 11/30/07 Brooklyn Daily Eagle that "the department doesn’t foresee any street or land closures, sidewalk widening around the arena or the instillation [sic] of bollards."


Posted by eric at 11:32 AM

August 19, 2011

Arena block sidewalks proposed to be narrower than analyzed in 2006 environmental review

Atlantic Yards Watch

In July, Forest City Ratner submitted to the NYC Department of Transportation plans to install 206 bollards on the sidewalks surrounding the Barclays Center arena. The plans appear to mirror the renderings of Barclays Center submitted by ESDC in December 2010 with its response to a State Supreme Court remand order. However, the plans reveal for the first time that several sidewalks surrounding the arena, including one in front of an arena entrance on Dean Street, will have narrower effective widths than were analyzed for the 2006 environmental impact statement under which the project was approved.

Gee, there's a surprise.

The sidewalk along the south side of Atlantic Avenue east of the arena entrance has very narrow effective width in order to accomodate the site for Building 4 and a protective security wall and fence. The effective width of 5.5 feet is only 40% of the 13.5 feet anticipated in the 2006 FEIS, and is barely more than the U.S. DOT suggests for a sidewalk bordering a residential street. This sidewalk will presumably be traveled by large groups of arena patrons leaving the Atlantic Avenue exit en route to arena parking to the east, and borders busy Atlantic Avenue. No bollards are shown to be installed along this section of sidewalk.

The FCR plans also highlight a potential challenge for cyclists traveling to arena events. Cyclists coming from the west and desiring to park in the arena bicycle lot would presumably travel on Dean Street in the bicycle lane. Because the bicycle lane separates the lay-by lane in front of the Dean Street arena entrance from the roadway, cyclists on their way to the bike lot will need to stay alert while dodging cars dropping off arena patrons.

Click thru for diagrams and more info.


Posted by eric at 11:52 AM

July 12, 2011

UNITY: A desperate plea for adult supervision

The Brooklyn Rail
by Brian J. Carreira

In New York City nothing symbolizes the hangover experienced from the real estate frenzy of the aughts better than the debacle that is the Atlantic Yards. Critics have long believed that Forest City Ratner Chairman and CEO Bruce Ratner’s high-flying promises of jobs, starchitecuture, affordable housing, high-rises, and sports were cynically calculated to sell his intention to control the rail yards at Atlantic Avenue. And they were, but it would seem that Atlantic Yards is faltering not because Ratner never believed his promises, but because he blindly believed too many of them.

Over the last eight years, the promises evaporated. The community groups supporting the project were largely astro-turf, not grassroots. (Recently bankrupt ACORN was a notable exception.) The community benefits agreement—promising jobs and affordable housing—that these groups signed onto with the developer was a public relations ploy and had no real structures of oversight or enforcement. Original project architect Frank Gehry, brought in to allay understandable fears that Forest City Ratner would continue to build ugly in Brooklyn, was dumped in favor of cheaper styling.

On June 15, a group of about 100 Brooklynites concerned about the progress—or non-progress—of the Atlantic Yards project gathered at the Commons in Boerum Hill to reconsider the community-driven UNITY plan.

The new UNITY plan—which will come out of the recommendations of the various committees formed at the meeting—will differ from its predecessors since it comes after the evictions and demolitions and will need to contend with the reality of a basketball arena next door. But it will likely inherit not only the values of the earlier plans, but also many of the original features.


Posted by eric at 10:20 AM

July 8, 2011

This Week: Must-See Arts in the City

by Carolina A. Miranda

194X - 9/11: American Architects and the City, at the Museum of Modern Art In recent years, many American cities have been rethinking elements of their urban fabric: reconsidering mobility, re-inhabiting once abandoned urban centers, creating mixed-use developments that allow citizens to live, work and eat in the same neighborhood, thereby lessening the use of a car. These issues of redevelopment are pressing -- especially in cities like New York, where space is limited, and behemoth projects such as the new World Trade Center site and the proposed Atlantic Yards project, consume entire neighborhoods. In what promises to be a thought-provoking new exhibit organized by architecture and design curator Barry Bergdoll, MoMA is examining more than a half century’s worth of urban renewal schemes by architects both famous (Mies Van der Rohe) and unknown (James Fitzgibbon). It's an excellent way of surveying ideas that have worked, and those that haven't. As part of a related design project, Bergdoll is also spearheading Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream, a workshop series devoted to the relationship between architecture, suburbanism and the foreclosure crisis. In other words, a lot of food for thought. Through January 2, in Midtown.


Posted by eric at 10:28 AM

June 29, 2011

New wayfinding signage coming to Prospect Heights; it will focus on cultural area, but I bet there will be directions to the arena

Atlantic Yards Report

New pedestrian signage is coming in 2013 to Prospect Heights, notably the cultural area near Grand Army Plaza. I'll bet the signage also helpfully mentions the arena site up Flatbush Avenue.


NoLandGrab: OK by us. Do you want to get stopped every five minutes and asked, hey, where's the arena at?

Posted by eric at 9:53 AM

June 28, 2011

Another press valentine for Amanda Burden: Wall Street Journal profile of City Planning Commission Chair ignores Atlantic Yards example

Atlantic Yards Report

In a 6/23/11 article headlined Champion of Cities: With New York's High Line park expansion, Amanda Burden's urban revitalization efforts set a model for the world, the Wall Street Journal reports:

This elegant blonde with a mellifluous voice is steelier than one might expect, a useful trait for someone who is spearheading Mayor Michael Bloomberg's far-reaching effort to rezone nearly a quarter of New York City and reclaim the city's waterfront. Her populist achievements span all five boroughs and include zoning for new affordable housing in East Harlem, Brookyln and the South Bronx, as well as the massively popular High Line, an abandoned railroad track that has been transformed into a popular tourist destination in the once-gritty meatpacking neighborhood, which has seen commerce move in and property values soar in the past decade.

Chairing the City Planning Commission since 2002, Burden, age 67, has revolutionized its role in the city, transforming a once-sleepy bureaucratic agency into an activist department championing good design by using zoning as a weapon to enforce her vision.

My comment:

This valentine to Amanda Burden neglects some of more complicated aspects of her legacy, such as the city's willingness--presumably not embraced by the City Planning Commission, but with no opportunity to publicly protest--to let the Empire State Development Corporation oversee the Atlantic Yards project, with no role for the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Meanwhile, Burden has been a loyal foot soldier for Atlantic Yards, even though it does not represent the Jacobsian mantle she embraces.

10/12/06: Planning Chair Burden claims Jacobsian mantle, discards it for AY
1/15/07: Times profile of planning chair Burden maintains AY myth, suffers curious cut
10/19/09: Two profiles of Amanda Burden make and miss the same points about City Planning (and Atlantic Yards)


Posted by eric at 10:46 AM

June 18, 2011

UNITY 4 Meeting Broaches New Plan For Atlantic Yards

The Local (NY Times Blog)

Veteran organizers and newcomers packed into a community space at the Commons on Atlantic Avenue to discuss the next steps in the plan. UNITY 4 is a revision of previous plan, UNITY, which is an acronym for Understanding, Imagining and Transforming The Yards. The plan was developed by activists shortly after the Atlantic Yard development was announced in 2003.

Speakers at the meeting said that now is the time to restart the discussion about the development, and to refresh the past UNITY plan. The arena is being built, but the community can still influence what happens on the remaining parcels of land, said Daniel Goldstein from Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB).

“The majority of the site is not done being developed,” Mr. Goldstein said. “This is the next phase.”

City Councilwoman Letitia James called on DDDB and other community groups to kick off a new organizing plan. “Can we engineer the project into something to benefit the common good?” she asked the crowd.


Posted by steve at 1:57 PM

June 16, 2011

Can Brooklyn Build a Pedestrian-Friendly Arena at the Atlantic Yards Site?

by Noah Kazis

The excellent Streetsblog reporter Noah Kazis looks at the transportation issues surrounding the Barclays Center, and some best-practices from around the country.

Ready or not, come September 28, 2012, Brooklyn will once again be home to a major professional sports venue. The Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards is scheduled to open by next fall, while progress on the rest of Forest City Ratner’s mega-development is lagging far behind. In the words of local City Council Member Letitia James, “All we’re getting is an arena and a large parking lot.”

James’s conclusion is perhaps a bit premature, as Norman Oder has noted at the Atlantic Yards Report, but the basic premise is right: The arena is moving ahead while the rest of the project languishes, and for a while the arena may stand all alone. The primary transportation planning challenge facing the area is how best to move the tens of thousands of people who will want to watch a basketball game or concert to and from the site in a way that is safe, sustainable and appropriate to an urban environment.

The fundamentals for a smart solution are there: The Atlantic/Pacific hub makes the area better-served by transit than almost anywhere else in the United States. Right now, though, the picture is more mixed. The state recently released its transportation plan for the arena, a plan largely in line with past promises from both the Empire State Development Corporation and the developer Forest City Ratner, which is intended to mitigate the increased traffic that the crowds heading to an arena event will bring to the surrounding neighborhoods. Many of the features, like free subway fares for certain Nets ticket holders and 400 secure bike parking spaces, will help make the Barclays Center more transit-oriented and bike and pedestrian-friendly.

But the developer is planning to build an 1,100-space surface parking lot, killing street life and inducing driving. And with some of the borough’s deadliest streets left in place as enormous traffic arteries, walking and cycling will remain overly dangerous, potentially keeping features like a temporary plaza from being much more than a hard-to-reach traffic island.

Between developer Forest City Ratner, the Empire State Development Corporation and the city government, the capacity exists to make the Barclays Center a standard-setting example for urban arenas around the country, if only they have the will.


Posted by eric at 11:29 PM

Meeting on revision of UNITY plan draws large crowd; development principles may be applied to Phase 2 AY site, but political pressure needed

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports on last night's UNITY 4 forum.

There's some new life in the Atlantic Yards opposition, it seems, as a meeting last night on the UNITY4 plan--a revision of a blueprint for an community-driven alternative use of part of the Atlantic Yards site--drew some 140 people, packing an Atlantic Avenue space known as The Commons.

While some veteran (and weary) Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn activists organized the meeting at the behest of Council Member Letitia James, the meeting not only drew people long associated with the BrooklynSpeaks coalition--once more of a mend-it-don't-end-it contrast with DDDB, now more of an ally--but those new to the struggle.

It was a preliminary meeting, to be followed up in the fall, but it was clear that the effort to revise the UNITY principles--regarding open space, transportation, multiple developers, and street connections--is as much political as anything.

And, despite the presence of three City Council members--and the support of representative state officials who were in Albany for the last week of the legislative session--it will be a challenge to wrest control from the unelected Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and to elect city and borough candidates in 2013 who support an alternative vision for the project site.

(The discussion applied mainly but not exclusively to the Phase 2 site, east of Sixth Avenue and the arena block.)

That said, there's clearly political space now, and perhaps more next year. Quoting BrooklynSpeaks' Gib Veconi, DDDB's Daniel Goldstein noted that, when the arena opens in September 2013, "that's when the outcry will really get much louder, and politicians will have to wake up, because they're going to hear a lot of complaints… or when Forest City Ratner comes back for more money, or some other favor from ESDC or the state, that's another time when a negotiation can take place."

[In an interesting piece of timing, Harvard University is reported to be considering multiple developers and smaller projects to revive a stalled major expansion.]


Related content...

The Boston Globe, Harvard may turn to partners to revive Allston expansion

Harvard University leaders will recommend today that the school take a dramatically different approach to its stalled expansion in Allston by dividing the ambitious vision into smaller projects and partnering with outside developers and investors.

The plan, scheduled to be presented today to Harvard president Drew Faust and Allston residents at a community meeting, lacks many specifics about cost, size, timing, and commitments from outside developers. But the recommendations for more modest short-term development could mark a new start for a gritty neighborhood that has been promised a building boom for more than a decade.

Posted by eric at 6:04 PM

June 14, 2011

The Zoning Resolution at 50, and some lessons from Philadelphia, where a new zoning plan makes sure to incorporate community input

Atlantic Yards Report

On June 8, the Municipal Art Society, along with the New York City Bar Association and American Planning Association New York Metro Chapter, sponsored a decorous panel on the history and future of zoning in New York, with continuing education credits for lawyers and planners.

Looking through an Atlantic Yards lens, it was another reminder that other cities, in this case Philadelphia, are making a greater commitment to public input, reflect greater respect for such input, and have powerful civic institutions that counterbalance government and the private sector.

The zoning resolution, passed in 1961, is the closest thing to a comprehensive plan that New York City has, according to the MAS. But it’s not much of a plan, given that it has grown enormously--by 900 pages--with numerous amendments. Does it still adequately and comprehensively address the challenges the city faces today?


Posted by eric at 10:53 AM

June 12, 2011

Why is historic preservation under attack? Little power for urban planners and "outsize power of private developers" in urban development ecosystem

Atlantic Yards Report

Sarah Williams Goldhagen's essay on the historic preservation movement in yesterday's New York Times, Death by Nostalgia, explains why historic preservation is under attack: the world of urban planning is tilted toward developers.

She writes:

Now, nearly a half-century later, New York is home to the most high-profile attack on the movement yet: in a recent exhibition at the New Museum, the architect Rem Koolhaas accused preservationists of aimlessly cherry-picking the past; of destroying people’s complex sense of urban evolution; and, most damningly, of bedding down with private developers to create gentrified urban theme parks.

Some of Mr. Koolhaas’s criticisms are on target — but his analysis is wildly off-base. It’s not preservation that’s at fault, but rather the weakness, and often absence, of other, complementary tools to manage urban development, like urban planning offices and professional, institutionalized design review boards, which advise planners on decisions about preservation and development.

It’s that lack, and the outsize power of private developers, that has turned preservation into the unwieldy behemoth that it is today.

Her recommendation:

Instead of bashing preservation, we should restrict it to its proper domain. Design review boards, staffed by professionals trained in aesthetics and urban issues and able to influence planning and preservation decisions, should become an integral part of the urban development process. At the same time, city planning offices must be returned to their former, powerful role in urban policy.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the Bloomberg administration to endorse this.


Posted by steve at 9:27 PM

May 31, 2011

Reconsidering Jane Jacobs: writers suggest that planners have become disempowered; shouldn't fealty to developers be part of the equation?

Atlantic Yards Report

The new book, Reconsidering Jane Jacobs (APA Planners Press), edited by Max Page and Timothy Mennel, serves as a bit of a bookend to Block by Block: Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, the 2007 book (Princeton Architectural Press) also co-edited by Mennel, and some of the essays--criticizing Jacobs or the impact of her followers--have already provoked spirited discussion.

Page's introduction sets out the challenge:

Is there any other urbanist whose ideas more people profess to understand who is less understood? And is there another urbanist whose influence is so widely felt even where her name is not well known? We suggest in this volume that the answer is again “no”: Many who profess to understand Jacobs’s ideas don’t, and many more who profess not to know of her work have in fact been deeply influenced by it. Like Freud’s, her ideas are everywhere, named or unnamed.

...Jane Jacobs has had lasting power for many reasons, but one of them certainly is that she offers something for everyone. As Francis Morrone has noted, Jane Jacobs has drawn the praise of new urbanists and preservationists, free-market capitalists, and advocates of government regulation. She is a right-wing libertarian, and she is a left-wing antiwar protester. She cherishes the small-business owner and rails against bureaucrats who limit innovation, and she is also the symbol of one of the things conservatives in the 2008 presidential election scoffed at: “the community activist.”

Fifty years after the publication of Jacobs's classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, (1961), the editors sought writers who would "wrestle with her blind spots, her contradictory political impulses," observe "the unintended uses to which her writing has been put."

The AY angle

There's no explicit mention of Atlantic Yards in the new collection, but, as I suggest below, there are arguments that connect to it.


Posted by eric at 1:29 PM

May 29, 2011

On Lopate, critic Witold Rybczynski said Atlantic Yards shows "how the developers, in a sense, are taking the lead in being planners"

Atlantic Yards Report

I missed this several months back, but author (Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities) and Slate architecture critic Witold Rybczynski, in an interview December 9 with WNYC's Leonard Lopate, offered some not atypical criticism about Atlantic Yards.


The Atlantic Yards discussion comes up at 12:36.

LL: Then there’s that whole matter of the Atlantic Yards project in Downtown Brooklyn. What are your thoughts on that?

(Not quite Downtown Brooklyn.)

WR: I thought the Atlantic Yards was an example of how the developers, in a sense, are taking the lead in being planners. I thought there were two problems there. One was the density seemed awfully high. And putting it in the hands of one architect, in this case Frank Gehry, I don’t think is a good idea. I have great respect for him as an architect, but I don’t think one architect shouldn’t design blocks and blocks of a city. Again, it’s going back to that piecemeal idea.

(Now that Gehry's gone, there likely will be several architects, as Gehry initially requested, though it's not like multiple parcels would be bid. And Gehry was part of the sales job.

LL: The Municipal Art Society was opposed to it because it kind of cut Brooklyn down the middle, and they felt that better planning allows for streets going through and for more of a mixing of neighborhoods. Another issue with Atlantic Yards was the building of a sports arena. Earlier we had a big debate about whether to build a Jets stadium on the West Side. And this is something that has become controversial all over the country. Do those stadiums wind up helping the community or costing the community an awful lot?

WR: When they’re planned, they’re often described as economic sort of engines. The evidence I’ve read is that they don’t, in fact, contribute economically to a city. They’re part of a city because it’s part of the culture of a city to have sports. But I think their proponents tend to exaggerate the economic spinoffs that come from them. And especially when they are subsidized by public funds, they really don’t make a lot of sense.

(Which is why maybe someone should have thought about giving away naming rights.)


Posted by steve at 9:53 PM

May 26, 2011

June 15: UNITY 4 Community Meeting -- We Can Do Better Than an Arena, A Big Parking Lot

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Forest City Ratner is constructing the arena, but the rest of the demolished 22 acre site is a big question mark...except for enormous "interim" surface parking lots. We, as a community, need to fix this future for the coming decades.

In order to plan, set a better framework, and change the dynamic for the future development of the site Councilmember Letitia James, Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn invite you to UNITY 4, a community meeting on Wednesday, June 15th to discuss the community's plans for the Atlantic Yards site, with the UNITY Plan and its principles as a jumping off point.

Please mark your calendars.

Wednesday, June 15. 7pm
at Atlantic Commons
388 Atlantic Avenue (between Hoyt and Bond)


Posted by eric at 11:16 AM

May 12, 2011

RPA Assembly on Innovation and the Global City: the need to invest in infrastructure and human capital (what, not arenas?)

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports on an interesting urban-planning forum held last month.

The Regional Plan Association's (RPA) 2011 Regional Assembly, “Innovation and the Global City,” held April 15 in New York City, explored "what global cities, from Singapore to London, and from Stockholm to New York, are doing to remain competitive on the world stage."

In case you're wondering, building a new arena to recruit a sports team from a neighboring state was not a focus of the event.

A Jane Jacobs echo

Opening the Assembly, citing advances in information technology, the RPA's Thomas Wright commented, "Imagine just what Jane Jacobs would have accomplished if she had access to modern social media."

It was an echo of Aaron Naparstek's April 2006 comment to the New York Times: "If Jane Jacobs had the tools and technology back when she was fighting Robert Moses' plans to bulldoze Lower Manhattan, I bet 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities' would have been a blog."


Posted by eric at 12:33 PM

May 9, 2011

Prompt but not so forthcoming: City Planning comes up empty when asked about in-house debate re Atlantic Yards and ULURP

Atlantic Yards Report

So, did any city planners object to the fact that Atlantic Yards bypassed all city review, with the city ceding its Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to the less stringent state process?

It's one of those lingering questions in the Atlantic Yards saga, given that even former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, in hindsight, agreed that was a mistake.

In March, I filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission, during the years 2002-2006:

Specifically, I request documents, including correspondence, from or to DCP staff/officials and CPC staff/officials, regarding whether and why the Atlantic Yards project should go through ULURP or not. (It did not go through ULURP; the Empire State Development Corporation overrode zoning.)

I thought I might get something substantive; surely someone within the city's planning firmament might have been slightly peeved that such a major project bypassed any city review.

Short answer — apparently not. Read on.


Posted by eric at 10:49 AM

May 8, 2011

From Lopate Show on NYU expansion controversy: how Atlantic Yards fits into the discussion

Atlantic Yards Report

Yes, Atlantic Yards remains a touchstone in discussions of urban issues. During a 4/19/11 segment on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show regarding New York University's Expansion Plan, the topic came up at the end.

At 30:59, Lopate asked, "Do you think that the Atlantic Yards controversy fits into this discussion?"

"Absolutely," responded author and urbanist Roberta Brandes Gratz. "Because, as I try to show in my book [The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs], there are basically two ways at looking at the future of change in a city. One is these large, overbearing, urban-renewal-style Robert Moses kind of projects, in which you wipe out an existing fabric to build a new one of questionable quality or whether you try to fit in and build on existing assets, which is, as I point out in the book, the Jane Jacobs way."

Of course it's hard to build a sports arena out of existing assets, but sports facilities are not economic saviors, which is why the city and state support for the Atlantic Yards arena is so questionable.

And there were industrial buildings in the Atlantic Yards footprint that had already been rehabilitated, and others awaiting such work. But there never was an open debate about what to do with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard, much less the blocks adjacent.


Posted by steve at 11:42 PM

Can manufacturing thrive in the city? New Pratt/Brookings report offers strategies

Atlantic Yards Report

I wrote last month about the late Robert Fitch and his book The Assassination of New York, which, among other things, makes the case that New York too easily sacrificed its manufacturing space.

Last month, the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program and the Pratt Center for Community Development in Brooklyn issued a report, The Federal Role in Supporting Urban Manufacturing, that warns about the conversion of manufacturing land to housing and mentions, among other successful enterprises, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center.

And, of course, we shouldn't forget that more jobs come from manufacturing than from megadevelopments in which office space (jobs!) is traded for housing.

From the press release:

The report looks at how cities, including New York, have made sure that budding manufacturing businesses have room and resources to grow. The report looks at how cities, including New York, have made sure that budding manufacturing businesses have room and resources to grow. While conventional wisdom says that urban manufacturing is in decline because it's no longer necessary, the Pratt Center/Brookings research found that for decades urban manufacturing has been sidelined by government policies that control the money, land and other resources businesses need to succeed. The report outlines essential steps to put government to work in support of manufacturing instead of against it, and open up job growth where it's most urgently needed—in the cities where the workers, transportation and markets already exist.

To help New York City and State as well as other states and localities better support the needs of small, urban manufacturers, the report recommends that the federal government:

  • Modernize policies to encourage metropolitan areas and states to capitalize on their existing manufacturing assets, support their integration into regional economic clusters, and do a better job of coordinating economic development with sustainability goals;
  • Encourage federally funded state and local workforce organizations to develop and enhance programs that equip workers with skills that match existing and emerging manufacturing jobs;
  • Provide support to states to create advanced manufacturing centers that focus on the research and development of new technologies and help manufacturing firms apply these technologies to their work;
  • Support state and local policies that help small manufacturers expand into new domestic and global markets;
  • Revise Small Business Administration programs to diversify the kind and amount of funding available to small manufacturers; and
  • Revamp programs and policies, such as the rules for Industrial Revenue Bonds, to help revive the market for industrial real estate development in urban areas.


Posted by steve at 1:28 AM

May 3, 2011

UNITY 4.0: June 15th Community Meeting To Revisit UNITY In Light of Recent Atlantic Yards (lack of)

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Save the Date:

A community meeting to revisit the UNITY Plan for the MTA Vanderbilt Rail Yards in the context of recent developments within the Atlantic Yards project area.

When: Wednesday, June 15th. 7pm
Where: The Commons
388 Atlantic Avenue
(between Hoyt and Bond)


For more information contact


Posted by eric at 12:06 PM

April 29, 2011

PlaNYC 2030, the questionable estimate of 1M more people, Morrone's history of erroneous NYC predictions, and the preservation movement

Atlantic Yards Report

Here's a must-read from AYR on the trouble with crystal-ball gazing.

Will New York grow by a million people by 2030, the premise of Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 sustainability effort? The latest statistics, growth of 2.1% over the past decade, suggest it's increasingly unlikely, though Bloomberg and others contest the numbers.

Still, the PlaNYC update should at least acknowledge the new numbers--but it hasn't, as Michael D. D. White points out in his Noticing New York blog:

Not only have the population projections not been changed in the plan... the old numbers remain firmly anchored in the plan.

A history of misplaced predictions

That got me thinking about the insightful keynote address given March 5 by historian, critic, and much-lauded guide Francis Morrone at the annual conference of the Historic Districts Council (HDC).

One theme of his address: over the past 40 years, the span of HDC's existence, many predictions have been way off. And though Morrone didn't mention PlaNYC, anyone listening would have another reason for skepticism.

Similarly, though Atlantic Yards is tangential to this discourse--the project has been justified, in part, because of the need to add density in light of population growth--we should be reminded (yet again) to take Atlantic Yards predictions with a grain of salt.

From the 1950s to the 1970s

Morrone reminded his audience that, in the 1950s, New York City was the pre-eminent world city by "every conceivable measurable criterion," including manufacturing, corporate headquarters, wholesale/retail sales, seaport activity, and cultural capital.

Predictions that the city would suffer a shortage of factory workers were way off. And, he noted:

New York City lost nearly a million people in the 1970s.

Today we are supposed to be planning for a city that will grow by more than a million by 2030. Yet 20 years before people started talking about "planned shrinkage," when New York had a preeminence among the cities of the world that no city in the history of the world had ever had, not a single expert, not one, predicted, or could have, the scale of the population loss. Something for us all to keep in mind when we hear expert projections.


Posted by eric at 11:09 AM

April 24, 2011

A Post-Earth Day Post: Bloomberg, His PlaNYC 2030, His Environmental Creds (Credentials and Credibility) and Population Projections

Noticing New York

The basis for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlaNYC is a projection for an additional 1 million New York residents by the year 2030. Recent stats show that population increase for New York is going flat, but this old projection is considered immutable.

New York City’s population is still growing. By 2030 we project that our population will increase to more than 9 million

Why is this important? One reason is that the projections for enormous population growth have been used as a backdrop to help justify the Bloomberg-style mega-development that begins with tearing things down while not having terrific success at replacing what gets demolished. It is also interesting to note that in 2007 Bloomberg's Director or the Budget, Mark Page, was factoring in this assumed population growth when calculating his balancing of the budget.


Posted by steve at 6:16 AM

PlaNYC update: an Atlantic Yards mention (for water mains!) and potential reconsideration of parking requirements

Atlantic Yards Report

On April 21, Mayor Mike Bloomberg released an an update (massive PDF) on PlaNYC 2030, the sustainability initiative launched in 2007.

Notable is an oblique mention of Atlantic Yards, as well as a nod to a major omission in the original plan: consideration of reducing parking requirements in residential developments, especially those near transit.

Previously I called the policy PlaNYC 1950, and the City Planning Commission is reportedly already studying the reduction of parking minimums.

An Atlantic Yards mention

Notably, Atlantic Yards is not described as transit-oriented development, or as the right way to develop publicly-owned property. it does get a nod under the heading "Upgrade water main infrastructure":

Once water leaves our in-city-tunnels, it travels through 6,700 miles of water mains to reach our homes. These aging pipes require continual maintenance and occasional upgrades. We will build out and replace critical water supply infrastructure to support the growth of the Coney Island community and make thousands of housing units and offices possible at Atlantic Yards. We will replace distribution mains in Jamaica Estates in Queens and Pelham Parkway in the Bronx. We will also complete the trunk main network in the Rockaways in Queens. Our commitment to upgrading and maintaining our system will save ratepayers money by preventing costly water main breaks and help support economic development in every borough.

For now, that water main upgrade will mainly benefit the Barclays Center.


Posted by steve at 6:12 AM

April 22, 2011

The late Robert Fitch and The Assassination of New York: the loss of manufacturing was not accidental

Atlantic Yards Report

Robert Fitch, an independent, impecunious left intellectual, freelance academic, and author of the little-known but still influential The Assassination of New York (Verso 1993, paperback, 1996), died March 4 at 72.

That prompted tributes and reflections from Doug Henwood in The Nation and Josh Mason (and others, including Fitch family members) on his blog.

The book still has resonance for today, including the portrayal of a real estate strategy (build!) as a jobs strategy, the role of the City Planning Commission in validating the power structure, the distorting impact of tax incentives on new construction, the reasons why New York is un-democratic, and the difficulty in fighting real estate proposals more complicated than building a highway through a neighborhood.


Posted by eric at 11:01 AM

April 10, 2011

Times sees dismay at cross-border poaching with subsidies; Panasonic seen as likely to move from Secaucus to Newark, not Brooklyn

Atlantic Yards Report

This blog entry points up the waste of attempts by competing regional government entities to attract big business. All too often big business gets the benefit of taxpayer-financed goodies with little benefit finding its way back to the localities.

In a 4/8/11 article headlined Businesses Stand to Gain Most in Rivalry of States, the New York Times reported:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This city, sharing a name with one state but settled in another, has a long history of ugly border skirmishes dating back to the Civil War. And even today, the annual football showdown here between the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri is referred to as “The Border War.”

But the interstate rivalry has grown fierce on a new battlefield — business — as the two states stage cross-border raids and entice companies with generous incentives to move a few miles and resettle on the other side.

Though some say such moves strengthen communities with new jobs and tax revenue, a growing chorus of leaders on both sides are wondering about the point of it all, warning that the efforts serve only to help private companies at taxpayer expense. Even some beneficiaries confess surprise at neighbors’ competing with such rancor.

...This approach is often criticized by economists like Timothy J. Bartik, who studies state and local economic development policies for the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

"It’s a little bit of a zero sum game,” Mr. Bartik said. “Because one part gains and the other part loses. And the gains are much more modest than the losses.”

This is a completely legitimate good-government argument. And, of course, it applies equally to luring a basketball team across state lines.

Why was the federal government asked to subsidize a new arena in Brooklyn via tax-exempt bonds when a new arena had just been built in Newark?

Panasonic looks to remain in NJ, but move

And why was New York (presumably) being asked to subsidized Panasonic's possible move to Brooklyn, notably to Forest City Ratner properties?

Whatever those lures, it looks like new subsidies are keeping Panasonic in New Jersey, albeit in a new city.

The Star-Ledger reported 4/2/11, Panasonic gives strongest indication yet of a move to Newark

Panasonic Corp. is leaving its American headquarters in Secaucus and has plans to relocate to Newark, according to statements released this week by company officials.

...But the company’s current landlord, Hartz Mountain Industries, is not letting them go without a fight. Hartz filed an appeal on Thursday seeking to stop the state’s Economic Development Authority from issuing a $102 million transit hub tax credit for the move.

"The tortured application of the law in this case has effectively established an open invitation for one New Jersey municipality to poach businesses from another at the taxpayers expense," Allen Magrini, senior vice president of Hartz Mountain, said in a statement. "This was certainly not the intention of our Legislature, especially when, as is the case here, there are no new jobs being created as a result of the $102 million grant."

..."If a company is truly at risk of leaving our state or considering whether to move here, then the issue is not about pitting town against town, it’s about the reality that New Jersey is being pitted against competing states," [attorney Ted] Zangari said. "The ultimate goal is to make sure businesses expand and relocate here."


NoLandGrab: The ESDC, tool of developer Bruce Ratner, has managed to win for us Atlantic Yards, a project nobody wanted, in the name of providing benefits that grow smaller and less likely to appear as time goes on.

Posted by steve at 8:52 PM

March 30, 2011

Reconsidering Jane Jacobs: a program tomorrow at the Museum of the City of New York

Atlantic Yards Report

No direct Atlantic Yards angle here, but a nice discount for readers of Atlantic Yards Report for what sounds like an interesting event.

Tomorrow, Thursday, March 31 at 6:30 pm, the Museum of the City of New York will host a panel titled Reconsidering Jane Jacobs.

Reservations required: 917-492-3395 or e-mail
$6 museum members; $8 seniors and students; $12 non-members
$6 when you mention Atlantic Yards Report

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street


Posted by eric at 12:29 PM

March 7, 2011

New book, "The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn," an interview with the author, some AY echoes, and some AKRF duplicity

Atlantic Yards Report

Do you think Atlantic Yards was the first community clash regarding such things as gentrification, affordable housing, and "Manhattanization" of Brooklyn?

It may be the largest, but it sure wasn't the first. Such tensions have been threaded through the remarkable transformation of the borough's row-house neighborhoods, as chronicled in Suleiman Osman's new book, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York.

I have an article about the book today in Patch. Also see an excerpt from the book's introduction and an interview in Dwell (and discussion on Brownstoner).

The book is a reminder of how much changed in Brooklyn without government intervention, and also how that spirit made those who changed Brooklyn suspicious of such intervention.

That said, the resistance to Atlantic Yards has gone well beyond knee-jerk and NIMBY, since many of those sympathetic to government intervention draw the line at this version.

Remember AKRF?

The book is also a reminder of--as I wrote more than four-and-a-half years ago--how the ubiquitous environmental consultant AKRF, in its very selective history for the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement, emphasized governmental investment in urban renewal, including condemnation, without acknowledging the parallel process in Brownstone Brooklyn of mostly private reinvestment and revival via historic preservation, which was hastened by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.


Posted by eric at 11:47 AM

March 4, 2011

City Limits on Defining Brooklyn: image does not quite meet reality, but borough is surely in flux

Atlantic Yards Report

The March/April issue of City Limits, Defining Brooklyn, is out, with a few pieces on the web, and offering a challenge:

What does it mean to be "Brooklyn?" No borough in the city—perhaps no other urban place in America—has the kind of name recognition that Brooklyn enjoys. From Neil Simon plays to Jay-Z songs, Brooklyn has long had a prominent cultural profile. And in the past 10 years, Brooklyn has embodied New York's boom, from the boutiques that dot once-gritty Red Hook to the luxury high-rises of Fort Greene. But does Brooklyn's cultural mystique—or the view from Red Hook or Fort Greene—reflect reality throughout the borough?

The answer, you might expect, is no, as indicated by the few articles posted.

(While the cover references the coming Nets arena, the articles posted so far barely mention Atlantic Yards.)


Posted by eric at 10:13 AM

March 1, 2011

The Downtown Brooklyn rezoning produced housing (& the DBP is happy), but shouldn't landowners who got a gift have been required to share the wealth?

Atlantic Yards Report

In a 2/27/11 article headlined Downtown Brooklyn's residential growth: Downtown, slated for office space, got a residential boom, Crain's reports how the downtown Brooklyn rezoning approved in 2004 has produced far less than the "forecast 4.5 million square feet of new office space and accompanying 18,500 jobs."

Rather, 1.3 million square feet of office space has been produced--no job total announced--and a lot of new housing: 23 residential buildings, and 4300 units.

The designated cheerleader is happy:

“One of the components of a healthy downtown is having a 24/7 community with a vibrant residential sector,” said Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “We're delighted.”

What about the change?

Yes, that's a component, but then again there's the record:

“We were supposed to get the third-largest business district in the city [behind midtown and lower Manhattan],” said Robert Perris, manager for Brooklyn's Community Board 2, which includes downtown. “What we've gotten is a high-rise residential neighborhood.”

Affordable housing

The article notes:

City Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents large sections of the downtown area, argued that the boom has excluded low- and middle-income families. She also noted that the neighborhood lacks schools, food stores and other necessary services and amenities.

“We were sold a bill of goods,” Ms. James said. The residential component should have more affordable housing, she added, but what she most wants to see is the thriving commercial center that the city initially proposed.


Posted by eric at 10:38 AM

February 27, 2011

Zimbalist issues guiding principles for successful arena in Edmonton; guarantees of revenues and ancillary development absent in Brooklyn

Atlantic Yards Report

In an Edmonton Journal article headlined Case for new arena no 'slam dunk': Leading analyst says such plans can work - if conditions are right, sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, who claims he turns down 70 percent of consulting gigs offered, offers a mixed opinion on a new downtown arena:

Success, he says, comes down to a few guiding principles.

These include: thoughtful planning and design; a solid financial model that places most (roughly 80 per cent) of the financial burden on the private-sector partner; upfront, iron-clad guarantees from the developer to protect local taxpayers from projected future revenue shortfalls or project cost overruns; and a binding upfront commitment by the team owner and his developer-partners to proceed with ancillary projects, such as hotels or condos.

What was missing in Brooklyn

Funny, but Zimbalist didn't say that in the "study" he conducted for Forest City Ratner. (He was hired before the project was unveiled in December 2003.)

Protection from future revenue shortfalls? No, Zimbalist provided the best-case scenario, which assumed a full buildout of the original configuration, and at the announced ten-year timetable.

The timetable is long gone, as is the configuration, and a full buildout is questionable, given that it's not required by the Development Agreement.

Binding commitment to proceed with ancillary projects? The Development Agreement allows a much smaller project. Office space (jobs and tax revenue) was swapped for condos.

Here's a prescient criticism, from the 5/4/04 Daily News:

"This document is a self-serving document," said Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Fort Greene). "This document is a ruse. We should line our wastebaskets with it."

And that's not even getting into other contradictions and willfully naive statements.


Posted by steve at 6:59 PM

February 19, 2011

Other northeastern cities move ahead to lower mandated parking in developments; will New York replace PlaNYC 1950?

Atlantic Yards Repot

In December 2007, I described how Mayor Mike Bloomberg's much-praised PlaNYC 2030 contains a glaring omission, a failure to address the antiquated anti-urban policy that mandates parking attached to new residential developments outside Manhattan, even when such developments, like Atlantic Yards, are justified precisely because they're located near transit hubs. I called the current situation PlaNYC 1950.

In Building a Greener Future: A Progress Report on New York City’s Sustainability Initiatives, released in May 2008, The New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund recommended, among other things, a comprehensive study of the parking requirements in the Zoning Resolution. Last July, the Department of City Planning was said to be rethinking parking minimums in new developments in western Brooklyn and elsewhere.

Others move ahead

But nothing's happened yet, while others move ahead. Streetsblog reports, in New York Falls Behind Big Northeast Cities on Parking Policy :

The city of Philadelphia recently released a draft of its new comprehensive plan, Philadelphia2035]. The plan’s release makes New York the last city in the four largest Northeastern metro areas that hasn’t so much as stated a commitment to cutting back on off-street parking.

Philadelphia2035 calls for controlling congestion by adding parking maximums into the zoning code and pricing on-street parking high enough so that 15 percent of spaces are always free. Here in New York, we still pretend that adding off-street parking reduces traffic congestion.

Posted by steve at 4:16 PM

February 10, 2011

The Just City: tensions between democracy and equity, heightened scrutiny for megaprojects, and a public share in the profits (and new taxes?)

Atlantic Yards Report

The Just City is Harvard planning professor Susan Fainstein's effort to "to apply abstract arguments concerning justice to actual planning situations," as she said during a panel at the New School on Tuesday, and "to respond to the triumph of neo-liberalism"--thinking dominated by the free market--"in planning doctrine."

While New York has seen substantial growth in the last 40 years, it has also seen the widening of inequality. So there's reason to dispute the argument that benefits of growth will trickle down, she said.

She's long been a critic of the Bloomberg administration. In an article, The Return of Urban Renewal: Dan Doctoroff’s Grand Plans for New York City, in the Spring/Summer 2005 issue of Harvard Design Magazine, Fainstein wrote:

For planners who do not believe that the market always produces choices best for the city, seeing the city once again engaged in planning that makes explicit the changes to come is welcome. Thus, in one respect, the current thrust toward comprehensiveness and public investment is a step forward in making visible and contested a process that otherwise remains hidden. But the methods by which the plans are developed, the emphasis on sports complexes, the encumbrances on the city and state’s fiscal integrity, and the sheer magnitude and density of the proposed projects can only cause serious misgivings.

Fainstein seemed to lump in Atlantic Yards with Yankee Stadium. The latter, she said, exemplified "a style of promoting growth that has been going on in New York... Bloomberg came in and said he wasn't going to give big subsidies to sports teams but in fact has done so... So all the teams got their stadiums, or their arenas."


Posted by eric at 11:25 AM

February 9, 2011

Two views of planning and zoning: the official city perspective (via Amanda Burden) vs. City Limits (City Without a Plan)

Atlantic Yards Report

From the 2/6/11 New York Times Real Estate section, A New City Handbook Demystifies Zoning:

Since becoming New York City’s planning commissioner in 2002, Amanda M. Burden has presided over the rezoning of wide swaths of the city.

Some changes have served traditional zoning goals — encouraging higher density on commercial thoroughfares (particularly near transit hubs) while lowering density in residential neighborhoods. And some have served goals not usually associated with zoning — improving food choices (by encouraging grocery stores to open in underserved neighborhoods) and promoting nonpolluting transportation (by requiring bike parking inside new residential buildings, for example).

“It turns out that boring old zoning, when used creatively, can be used to solve a whole lot of problems,” Ms. Burden said in a telephone interview...

That the [zoning] resolution is “impossible to understand,” Ms. Burden said, has taken the tool of zoning out of the hands of the public. She hopes to change that, with a new handbook, available Monday, that she said not only “demystifies zoning, but I think is entertaining — it’s fun to read.”

...Ms. Burden says she will be happy when residents start attending meetings with dog-eared copies of the new book. “Planning,” she said, “is most effective when it’s in the hands of the community.”

From City Limits

In the January 2011 issue of City Limits, City Without a Plan (p. 16):

Unfortunately, the way New York City plans is largely broken.

Unlike many major American cities, New York has never compelted a comprehensive plan for its future. Instead, it has passed zoning laws to try to constrain the private market... Under Mayor Bloomberg, more than 100 neighborhoods have been rezoned, but it is not clear that those changes follow a logical, equitable or comprehensive plan for how to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of new residents the New York of 2030 will have to house, employ, and move.


NoLandGrab: And let's not forget, sometimes an entire area is rezoned so the City's Planning Commissioner can find a suitable white-tablecloth place to eat after attending a concert by The Magic Lady.

Posted by eric at 11:34 AM

Meeting marks a step toward a broad-based Brooklyn civic organization, with AY activists playing a role

Atlantic Yards Report

In my New York Times Complaint Box essay last month, Powerless in Brooklyn, I wrote, "We lack meaningful local government, as well as broad-based media and civic organizations."

In a comment, Raul Rothblatt of the Four Borough Preservation Alliance (and an Atlantic Yards activist), wrote, "We are currently working on facilitating cooperation between groups in Brooklyn..."

Indeed, a meeting was upcoming, as I had been told. (I learned of it after I'd written my essay and had it approved.)

First meeting

Now the Courier-Life reports on the first meeting, in New group would 'take back borough' Brooklyn-wide civic group sought

Can it work? The agendas of civic groups vary--it's not all land use--but, at the very least, talking might lead to a platform of priorities.


Posted by eric at 10:51 AM

What’s New in NYC DEP’s Strategic Plan?

Aqueous Advisors

Pretty sure this is the first time we've posted a link to Aqueous Advisors.

Today, NYC DEP released its 78-page Strategic Plan for 2011-2014, with 100 initiatives. My question here is:

What’s new in those initiatives? What’s announced here for the first time?

Below, I’ve identified the 10 items that were newest to me.

Initiative #41: Build out and replace critical water mains

DEP will construct new 72″ water mains “to ensure the vibrancy of the Manhattan central business district, support the growth of Coney Island’s amusement district, and make the thousands of housing units and offices at Atlantic Yards possible.” In other words, new condos near the Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, and Coney Island will need more water. Will this be paid for by the new development charge in #14?


Posted by eric at 10:33 AM

January 31, 2011

Catching up: on declining manufacturing jobs, uncounted vacant lots (that could support new housing)

Atlantic Yards Report

The Bloomberg administration may gain respect for pursuing illegal gun sales, but there are lots of lapses when it comes to land use.

In a post January 15, I quoted the Village Voice quoting City Limits on the decline of manufacturing jobs, but here's Sarah Crean's original piece, dated January 3, headlined Did City's Industrial Policy Manufacture Defeat?

She wrote:

According to research conducted by the New York Industrial Retention Network, 23.4 million square feet of industrial space was lost to approved rezonings between 2001 and 2008, impacting some of New York’s most populated manufacturing districts. Significant portions of Greenpoint-Williamsburg, Long Island City, the midtown Garment Center, and Port Morris in the Bronx were rezoned during this period, mainly for residential development.

Repeated attempts by community groups, labor unions, industrial advocates and others to promote alternative plans that would not place as much pressure on manufacturing clusters met with limited success. We were particularly unsuccessful in reaching any sort of a conceptual common ground with the Department of City Planning. They generally ignored the argument that permitting residential development in industrial areas would lead to conversion pressure because owners of industrial buildings could generate higher returns with residential tenants. The Department of City Planning made repeatedly clear its belief that manufacturing jobs were not integral to New York’s future, while residential development, of course, was. Now as we struggle through double-digit unemployment in many of the city’s low income neighborhoods, the logic of ignoring our industrial sector seems more questionable.


NoLandGrab: But where is one going to find a nice poached turbot in beurre blanc and a lovely Pouilly-Fuisse in a manufacturing district?

Posted by eric at 11:08 PM

January 29, 2011

MAS announces 2011 Livability Watch List, including Moynihan Station, Coney Island, NYU expansion; AY is not included but said to inform MAS thinking

Atlantic Yards Report

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) has announced the 2011 Livability Watch List, "a compilation of the 11 initiatives that will have the most significant effect on livability in New York City this year. As the leading organization dedicated to creating a more livable New York through intelligent urban planning and design, MAS will call attention to these 11 through advocacy work, public programming and issues monitoring."

The list, which leads with Moynihan Station & Hudson Yards, and includes Coney Island and the expansion of NYU, surely includes some major topics. It's tough to argue that any should be omitted, and it'll be a challenge for the MAS to keep track and galvanize interest.

That said, Atlantic Yards is a conspicuous omission, given that the issues it raises--a megadevelopment in a very tight spot, questionable design, indefinite interim surface parking--surely galvanized MAS for a while, leading it to help found "mend it, don't end it" BrooklynSpeaks, then to withdraw about a year ago once the latter finally went to court, a tactic with which MAS disagreed.


Posted by steve at 8:21 AM

January 28, 2011

Planner Garvin on the importance of parks; his checklist explains why publicly-accessible open space (as in AY) doesn't measure up

Atlantic Yards Report

On Monday I attended a lecture by planner Alexander Garvin, academic, consultant (self-described "public realm strategist"), former Dan Doctoroff aide, and author of the recently-published Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities.

While Garvin wasn't addressing publicly-accessible, privately-managed open space like that planned for Atlantic Yards, it's clear that it doesn't measure up to the standards of public parks.

AY open space comes later

It also should be pointed out that the Atlantic Yards open space would not come until Phase 2 of the project, and then in increments as each building is finished, which means the full eight acres would not arrive for ten years, under the non-credible official timetable, and more likely 25 years, the official deadline.

By contrast, at Battery Park City, much of the park space was built first. Indeed, as Garvin described using examples from Paris (boulevards, parks, small parks) and San Antonio (the Riverwalk), such public investment stimulated investment, rather than was portrayed as a reward after allowing new development.

Garvin, as I've reported, stresses investments in the "public realm," streets, squares, parks, transportation systems, and public buildings, which, he said Monday, provides the most leverage in capturing and guiding public investment in the public interest.


NoLandGrab: The MetroTech rules sign could've been a lot smaller if they'd just listed the things one is allowed to do.

Posted by eric at 11:57 AM

January 27, 2011

New Betaville, based on gaming technology, could equalize the information gap in urban design and enhance public participation

Atlantic Yards Report

Public presentations of projects like Atlantic Yards have relied principally on self-serving, often misleading renderings produced by the developer's architect, frequently from a helicopter view rather than street level.

Indeed, even New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff got religion in April 2008, pointing out, in relation to the Hudson Yards plan, that misleading and incomplete renderings produce a "distorted picture of reality" that "stifles what is supposed to be an open, democratic process."

With Atlantic Yards, some citizen activists and outside professionals produced alternative renderings of the project in neighborhood scale, which in turn led to a new and better renderings from architect Frank Gehry, which were released by the Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency shepherding the project.

Still, New York's daily newspapers failed to present a rendering of the project in neighborhood scale.

So, as I told Urban Omnibus, Betaville, described as a new “open source, multi-player environment for real cities” offers great promise in equalizing the information gap and helping present, from the start, a more honest perspective on development projects big and small. Such a service is only fair, and long overdue.

Urban Omnibus has an fascinating video interview with Betaville developer Carl Skelton, director of the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center (BxmC) at NYU Poly, in which he describes, using Betaville, how you can "fly around, like Robert Moses, and walk around, like Jane Jacobs" and how expertise can meet "local competence."


Related coverage...

Urban Omnibus, Betaville

Posted by eric at 9:09 AM

January 24, 2011

The Vanishing City: film focuses on the fruits of a corporate-friendly mentality and the "luxury city"; AY gets a cameo

Atlantic Yards Report

Trying to understand the arc of the city that led to such projects as Atlantic Yards, I've been writing recently about the loss of manufacturing. That's part of a larger story, told intriguingly--if incompletely--in the 55-minute 2010 documentary, The Vanishing City, by Fiore DiRosa and Jen Senko.

The overview:

Told through the eyes of tenants, city planners, business owners, scholars, and politicians, The Vanishing City exposes the real politic behind the alarming disappearance of New York’s beloved neighborhoods, the truth about its finance-dominated economy, and the myth of “inevitable change.” Artfully documented through interviews, hearings, demonstrations, and archival footage, the film takes a sober look at the city’s “luxury” policies and high-end development, the power role of the elite, and accusations of corruption surrounding land use and rezoning. The film also links New York trends to other global cities where multinational corporations continue to victimize the middle and working classes.

Opening with the voices of neighborhood residents who fear they are being pushed out, the film pivots on the insights of anthropologist and urban historian Julian Brash, author of Bloomberg’s New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City and subject of this 10/22/08 Q&A on Jeremiah's Vanishing New York blog.

The "luxury city" quote, as noted at the bottom, reflects Mayor Mike Bloomberg's framing of the city as a luxury product for corporations to choose as a location--a philosophy, as the film points out, that's belied by the tax breaks targeted for big employers.

But the film, not inappropriately, points to an emphasis on building luxury housing, with the attendant shift in the character of neighborhoods, as small businesses close.

The question, echoed in the 2007 and 2008 discussions of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, is whether that was simply the market at work. As the film reminds us, it wasn't.


Posted by eric at 9:04 AM

January 20, 2011

Two from The Onion the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Brooklyn Broadside: Is a Major Office Building a Prospect for Brooklyn?

First up is Dennis Holt, who after all these years, still doesn't know where "downtown" Brooklyn begins and ends.

Would it be called the Panasonic Building? It just might if it were within the Atlantic Yards development. But it might not were it to go into existing MetroTech space. What am I talking about, for Pete’s sake, or the phrase might be for Bruce’s sake?

Last Friday’s Wall Street Journal broke a story that has very much been kept under wraps for all the obvious reasons. Credit reporters Joseph Se Avila and A. D. Pruitt.

Under wraps? They're not close to making a decision, and our bet is that the unwrapping was done by Forest City.

Here’s the grabber: Panasonic Corporation of North America is headquartered in Secaucus, New Jersey. For reasons not spelled out, it wants or needs to move someplace else. The state of New Jersey is moving heaven and earth to keep it there, probably in a new building in Newark.

Guess where Panasonic is looking? In Downtown Brooklyn, of course, either as part of MetroTech (NYU Polytechnic is there, remember) or as part of the Atlantic Yards development. (Remember Frank Gehry’s Miss Brooklyn?) Bruce Ratner controls both sites. The numbers may change, to be sure, but it appears that Panasonic would need about 250,000 square feet for about 800 jobs. Those are numbers that call out for an anchor tenant and the building of a respectable office building.

Back in the real world, Norman Oder pointed out on Tuesday that nearly three times that much space is vacant at MetroTech.

Next up is Henrik Krogius, who must be talking about some other Atlantic Yards.

Review and Comment: Idea for Gowanus?

We live in a changing Brooklyn that tries to cling to its (not always so sweet) past, in a time when the speed of technological change has unsettled many people. Reaction against innovative planning has marked the new millennium on matters like Atlantic Yards and the financing and design of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and yet individual towers not part of any considered community framework have sprouted willy-nilly. It’s not the same old Brooklyn. But facing up to the need for more considered and innovative approaches to development comes hard.

Say what? "Innovative planning?" We'll let Norman Oder take that one.

Atlantic Yards Report, Daily Eagle columnist: "Reaction against innovative planning has marked the new millennium on matters like Atlantic Yards"

He's right that individual towers have sprouted thanks to the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, but the lack of response--and anticipation--is at least partly because the rezoning was supposed to bring mainly office towers, not residential ones.

But Atlantic Yards as "innovative planning"?

Audacious design, maybe.

The planning was non-existent; the project was imposed from on high, with the state overriding local land use review.

Posted by eric at 10:25 AM

January 16, 2011

Made in Brooklyn: a 1993 warning about the loss of manufacturing for housing, more poignant today; is real estate really economic development?

Atlantic Yards Report

The documentary Made in Brooklyn, about the importance of manufacturing and the shortsightedness of trading industrial space for housing and offices, was made in 1993, but the message remains valid, if ever more poignant.

(The filmmaker is Isabel Hill, known for her subsequent Brooklyn Matters documentary on Atlantic Yards.)

After all, Made in Brooklyn was filmed before this decade's real estate boom, and some of the manufacturers featured in the documentary, notably the Domino Sugar plant in Williamsburg (right), have closed, and the Domino site is slated to become the New Domino, a development second in size to Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn.

The reviews and comments were mostly laudatory, though one critic pointed out Hill could have asked about salaries and benefits, and noted that some small manufacturers are sweatshops. Still, manufacturing has long been a source of good jobs for immigrants and others who may lack book learning but can use their skills.

There's an argument for local manufacturing, one that remains for such things as immigrant food services, the garment industry, and support for live theater: Brooklyn offers proximity to consumer markets and access to a large pool of labor.

Author Pete Hamill, who rose from manufacturing work to a writing career, gets some zingers in on the value of labor.

The conventional wisdom

Academic Mitchell Moss offers the standard, not implausible, explanation about the loss of manufacturing: factories left for land designed for mass assembly, access to highways, and locations with low-cost labor.

What's the future for low-skilled workers? Building services and building maintenance.

But you can't build yourself out of a recession, right?


Posted by steve at 10:57 AM

January 15, 2011

The decline in manufacturing is the worst eight-year drop in NYC history; one reason is rezonings

Atlantic Yards Report

Remember how Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said the country needs to get back to manufacturing?

Well, New York City has its niche manufacturing, but that niche is narrowing. Tom Robbins, soon to depart from the Village Voice, reports:

This month, City Limits magazine reported that under Mayor Bloomberg's watch, manufacturing jobs in the city disappeared twice as fast as in the rest of the country. Almost 64,000 blue-collar positions vanished, a decline of 46 percent. It is the worst eight-year slide in city history, says Sarah Crean, who has kept an eye on these statistics for the New York Industrial Retention Network. Land rezoning is one reason, says Crean. Indifference is another.

It might be added that, when rezonings were passed, the city didn't always predict things well, as with Downtown Brooklyn. And sometimes, as with Atlantic Yards, the city let the state override zoning.


Posted by steve at 11:42 AM

January 1, 2011

Los Angeles Times architecture critic, aghast at a stadium proposal, thinks New York, by contrast, doesn't embrace developer-driven projects

Atlantic Yards Report

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne yesterday offered Critic's Notebook: Los Angeles needs a game plan: AEG's plans for a new football stadium in downtown Los Angeles point to bigger problems: The city follows, not leads, and allows developers to shape Los Angeles one mega-project at a time.

He lamented:

One is that City Hall finds itself in the familiar position of reacting to, rather than guiding with any real foresight, a major development proposal that seeks to rewrite the planning rules downtown.

New York leads the way?

Dismayingly, Hawthorne suggested New York offers a counterpoint:

By contrast, other cities, notably New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Portland, Ore., have breathed new life into the public sphere not by chasing giant developer-driven projects but by tending carefully to transit, bike paths, parks and other human-scaled improvements.

I posted a comment:

That's ridiculous. Along with appointing an innovative director of the Department of Transportation and others concerned about human-scaled improvements, Bloomberg has backed to the hilt developer-driven megaprojects such as the West Side Stadium (killed), new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets, and the Atlantic Yards project (arena plus towers) in Brooklyn.

Distinguished planner Alexander Garvin said this past June, "Atlantic Yards: what kind of public realm is there? None,” he responded rhetorically. “A single site rezoned for a single owner with a set of towers and an arena. That's not a public realm. If you're going to increase what you can support on the site, you need to be able to support them with something, such as community facilities, mass transit, and streets, and I have a problem when the upzoning isn't related to that.”


Posted by steve at 9:03 AM

December 22, 2010

Moses, Jacobs And You: The Battle For Gotham

A history of the philosophical battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, told by an author who, wisely, took it personally.

City Limits
by Jarrett Murphy

City Limits reviews Roberta Brandes Gratz's The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.

But the problem with the Moses project of 2007, as Gratz observes, was that it stretched reexamination into rehabilitation. Suddenly Robert Moses was the reason New York had become a modern city, as if there had been no plausible way for the New York of 2010 to be created without, say, the Cross-Bronx Expressway cutting through the heart of the Bronx or Lincoln Center obliterating a West Side neighborhood. “The physical achievements, whether judged good or bad, are undeniably mighty in breadth, scale and obstacles overcome,” Gratz writes of Moses. “But the danger in a revisionist view of history is that it takes on a life of its own.”

Worse still was the timing of this Moses revival, coming at the end of a development boom that was Moses-esque in its scale and deafness to public outcry, from Atlantic Yards to Yankee Stadium to Willets Point. Community plans were pushed aside to meet developers' demands. Huge public subsidies were proffered and the threat of eminent domain brandished repeatedly. The defense of Moses was easily repurposed as a defense of the city's new power brokers, whose excesses Gratz details.


Posted by eric at 11:10 AM

December 14, 2010

Development, Zoning Fights Fuel Push For NYC Roadmap

City Limits
by Jarrett Murphy

It was hard not to be impressed by the December 2006 rollout for Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 initiative. Guests who took the subway out to Flushing were carted via trolley-bus to the stunning Queens Museum of Art. The crowd of dignitaries, advocates and reporters packed the floor of an exhibition hall and flowed onto a mezzanine above. A slick multimedia presentation accompanied the mayor's remarks, and the former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw oversaw a panel discussion after Bloomberg spoke. The mayor himself was masterful, weaving together civic confidence, moral purpose and self-deprecating humor. And how sweeping his vision was: carbon emissions reduction, affordable housing, new parkland, better transit and cleaner water.

There was just one problem: PlaNYC wasn't actually a plan. Nor was it meant to be one. "It's supposed to be an agenda, and that's what it is," says one former PlaNYC staffer. "We made a mistake by calling it a plan."

No shock there. As the new issue of City Limits magazine reports, real planning is not something New York City has ever done. Other major cities have drafted comprehensive plans that linked land development to transit improvements and government services. But New York has always relied on zoning, which creates rules for what the private market can build, rather than planning. Some attribute this to the city's political complexity, others to the power of the local real estate industry. Many argue that New York is too spontaneous a place for a plan.

But there are growing calls to re-examine those assumptions. Pitched battles over recent redevelopment plans—from Atlantic Yards to Manhattanville—have fueled a fervor for more community input into how the city grows. Developers face lengthy environmental reviews that can increase the cost and alter the marketability of a project. Deals in which builders offer benefits in exchange for community groups' support are under increasing legal and political scrutiny. New York, with a transit system strained by growing ridership and crumbling finances, is struggling to compete with other cities in offering a greener and more efficient commute.

In "City Without A Plan," City Limits looks at the past, present and possible future of planning in New York, with reporting from the South Bronx to the Brooklyn waterfront to suburban Staten Island.


Posted by eric at 5:04 PM

December 11, 2010

Prospect Heights: Slope Appeal With Edge

The Wall Street Journal
By Joseph De Avila

This overview of Prospect Heights tries to gloss over the disaster of placing an arena near a residential area.

The character of the neighborhood is in for a big change. The controversial Atlantic Yards project, being built by developer Forest City Ratner, has begun construction. The Barclays Center, the sports arena that will become home for the Nets, is slated for completion in 2012. Forest City Ratner also has rights to build 16 buildings of commercial space and some 6,000 apartments.

The construction is causing headaches at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, already one of the busiest intersections in Brooklyn, said Terry Robison of Prudential Elliman, who lives in Prospect Heights. But once the construction is finished, he thinks having an arena where residents can walk to concerts and basketball games could have positive impacts on home values.

"Getting used to that will take some adjustment," Mr. Robison said. But "prime Prospect Heights is close enough yet far enough away that it won't have a detrimental effect."


NoLandGrab: Yes, all of the tonier neighborhoods are clamoring to have an arena built near them.

Posted by steve at 9:17 AM

November 24, 2010

The Amanda Burden Open Space Award sets a new standard; could the Atlantic Yards plaza be a "signature public space"?

Atlantic Yards Report

Honestly, we thought this story had to be from The Onion.

The Urban Land Institute (ULI), a developer-led organization, this year gave its first Amanda Burden Urban Open Space Award, named for and supported by the Chairperson of New York City's Department of City Planning. (The brochure is embedded below.)

The winner: Campus Martius Park in Detroit, described as "heart of downtown Detroit’s development story and its signature public space. Surrounded by offices, residential space, and restaurants, it is a magnet for everyday visitors and high-profile events."

Would the Atlantic Yards plaza serve similarly? I doubt it.


Posted by eric at 9:46 AM

November 23, 2010

New Brooklyn open space maps call parts of AY site well-served, but don't factor in expected new population; what's the open space ratio?

Atlantic Yards Report

New open space maps from the Parks Department, via the Mayor's Office of Environmental Coordination, provide an apparently accurate but ultimately misleading picture of the Atlantic Yards site.

Sections of the map delineated in red are considered "well-served areas," perhaps because of their relative proximity to Prospect Park. However, should Atlantic Yards be built as planned, the ratio of open space to population will decline, raising questions about the level of service.

Only parts of the Atlantic Yards site destined for Phase 2 are currently considered "well-served areas." The arena block, which would be the first phase developed, is not.

Remember, as I wrote November 16, the delay in project timetable means the "temporary significant open space impact" could last twice as long as the period studied in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.


Posted by eric at 12:21 PM

November 22, 2010

Japanese developers tour Jersey City's Newport as example of transit-oriented smart growth

The Jersey Journal
by Amy Sara Clark

Atlantic Yards must be the example of how not to do things.

A delegation of 16 Japanese developers toured Newport Wednesday to get ideas on how to successfully develop residential and commercial properties around a railroad station.

The stop was part of a weeklong tour that also includes Grand Central Terminal, Queens Center Mall, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, the Potomac Yard Project in Alexandria, Vir., and the Wisconsin Place shopping center in Chevy Chase, Md.


NoLandGrab: In Japan, real estate developers are known as "Yakuza." Here, too.

Posted by eric at 8:34 AM

November 9, 2010

From "Intractable Democracy": the revival of Myrtle Avenue required leadership, investment, and neighborhood involvement, not eminent domain

Atlantic Yards Report

In Intractable Democracy: Fifty Years of Community-Based Planning, a new collection of articles and interviews by and with people associated with the Pratt Institute City and Regional Planning Program, there's a fascinating account of the revitalization of Myrtle Avenue in the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn.

The bottom line: while Myrtle Avenue, once dubbed "Murder Avenue," had declined, its revival stemmed from prudent investment, strategic leadership, and neighborhood involvement, not by any declaration of blight and the attendant use of eminent domain.

In other words, Myrtle Avenue was seen as something that could bloom if carefully tended, not as something that should be cleared by the state, as with the Atlantic Yards site.


NoLandGrab: You can be sure that if Bruce Ratner had wanted Myrtle Avenue, it would have suffered a very different fate.

Posted by eric at 10:27 AM

November 8, 2010

Cuomo's Urban Agenda: vague regarding housing and transportation, but rhetoric about community development promises local consultation

Atlantic Yards Report

New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has an Urban Agenda (details in PDF), which sounds good in places, but is also vague and cautious. He was been criticized for issuing it too late and not grappling with big challenges like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Interestingly enough, when it comes to affordable housing, Cuomo says nothing about mega-projects and suggests, with perhaps more hope than anything else, that the federal government could play a much bigger role.

While the little press coverage focused on the politics of the agenda (e.g., outreach to the black community), the MTA, and housing, the document contains some impressive boilerplate in the direction of good planning.

Should such rhetoric be followed and Community Development Blueprints be created, projects like Atlantic Yards would be much more difficult to achieve, given the rhetorical importance given to community consultation.

But that's not necessarily how development gets done, especially when developers like Bruce Ratner have given campaign contributions and have the governor's ear.


Posted by eric at 10:55 AM

November 6, 2010

Fulton Mall is not there yet

The Brooklyn Paper
By Faith Hope Consolo

This article gushes about changes coming to the Fulton Mall (ahem, "luxury retail corridor") in downtown Brooklyn. This view includes the idea that the introduction of more chain stores will then lead to the opening of hip restaurants. It's difficult to predict the future will be for this shopping strip, but the author makes a pretty big stretch by predicting significant pedestrian traffic from the office workers of Bruce Ratner's soul-numbing Metrotech Center as well as from the arena goers of Atlantic Yards, about a half mile away.

The concentration of the youth-market stores will easily attract buyers from the entire borough. Add to the mix the proximity to Metrotech Center and the Atlantic Yards, and a constant flow of foot traffic in the pedestrian mall is almost a guarantee.


Posted by steve at 8:26 AM

November 3, 2010

MAS Summit: Moynihan Station seen as transformative project (not AY)

Atlantic Yards Report

The Municipal Art Society's (MAS) Summit for New York City October 21-22 featured a panel on a project all participants deemed transformative to the city.

Atlantic Yards? No, Moynihan Station, the transformation of the Farley Post Office into a train station worthy of the city's biggest commuter hub, the underground and much-maligned Penn Station, and the attendant development of the Far West Side of Manhattan.

Sure, the summit was held at a venue adjacent to Penn Station, so a Moynihan Station panel--especially given the groundbreaking that week--made sense.

But had the summit been held in Brooklyn, they could not have made the same arguments or predictions. It's simply impossible to see Atlantic Yards as transformative in the same way. There would be, at most, one commercial building, not dozens.

In fact, it's more likely that Atlantic Yards will linger, as it takes far longer than initially promised for most or all of the planned apartment towers to be constructed.


Posted by eric at 10:20 AM

November 2, 2010

MAS Summit: City Vitals shows New York's strengths (talent, innovation) and weaknesses (percentage of voters, separation of rich/poor)

Atlantic Yards Report

A couple of years ago, I remember asking a couple of then-colleagues whom they were voting for in local elections. They had no interest in voting.

Indeed, while New York certainly comes out high in several lists of key urban attributes, it's quite low--43rd out of 50--when ranking the number of votes cast in the November 2004 presidential election divided by the voting age population of the metropolitan area.

That's one intriguing finding in City Vitals, a report that documents four key elements-- talent, innovation, connections and distinctiveness-- that drive prosperity in urban environments.

So it gives some perspective on how New York City can in many ways thrive even as citizens and communities feel a disconnect with government, such as when projects like Atlantic Yards are "done deals" despite formal opportunities for public input.


Posted by eric at 3:57 PM

October 28, 2010

MAS Summit: the dominance of NYC EDC in planning, the value of green space, and the importance of sharing the bounty across the boroughs

Atlantic Yards Report

While the livability survey revealed at the Municipal Art Society's (MAS) Summit for New York City October 21-22 suggested that most New Yorkers were satisfied, there were significant pockets of discontent, notably (and unsurprisingly) among poorer residents in the outer boroughs.

So there was a good deal of discussion about how to improve things. After all, suggested Robert McNulty, founder and president of Partners for Livable Communities, "livability should be defined by the least advantaged member of your community."


Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, blamed the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC) for thinking that parking garages and big development like the East Side Gateway Mall or Yankee Stadium were the key to development.

"I think EDC needs to undergo a revolution," he said. "This stuff isn't window dressing." Such "stuff" includes things like parks and transportation.

Indeed, in a 10/4/10 Gotham Gazette column headlined The Real Power in City Planning, Hunter College planning professor Tom Angotti wrote:

Name just about any big and controversial development project in New York City -- the new Yankee Stadium, Bronx Terminal Market, Willets Point, Coney Island, Metrotech -- and behind them stands a single powerful dealmaker that makes them possible, the New York City Economic Development Corp. or EDC.

His conclusion:

Whether EDC does better planning and development because of its special position and powers is an open question that we might all disagree on. But EDC has assumed critical government planning powers that the City Charter and local law give to city agencies. By negotiating and making decisions in the shadows, EDC can avoid the sunlight that helps citizens understand what is getting developed and decide whether they want it or not. We may know what EDC's executives say to the public through their public relations office but little is know what is said in their exclusive discussions with developers.

Note that NYC EDC has supported Atlantic Yards, though the lead role went to another not quite transparent agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, controlled by the governor.


Posted by eric at 8:58 AM

October 25, 2010

MAS Summit: Bloomberg administration's Jacobsian efforts are highlighted, but embrace of "cataclysmic projects" shouldn't be ignored

Atlantic Yards Report

While the big news at the municipal Art Society's (MAS) Summit for New York City October 21-22 concerned the livability survey commissioned by the MAS, there was much more worthy of discussion, and I'll address some of those issues this week.

Notably, one moment crystallized the ongoing tensions--as provoked earlier in the week by the Jane Jacobs Medals celebration--between the Bloomberg administration's worthy, Jacobsian efforts, and its less defensible affection for megaprojects.

Author and Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz spoke on a panel titled Vibrant Neighborhoods.

"I think it's wonderful that members of the Bloomberg administration thought this summit important enough to appear here to catalog the wonderful things agencies are doing to make the city more livable," she said, a reference to Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin, Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who spoke at the event, along with Deputy Mayor Patti Harris.

"What is interesting is many of these things are not what we hear most about," Gratz said. "They are creative initiatives, spread in small doses, very Jacobsian, not the big cataclysmic projects that we hear most about that are not the creators of a livable city."

"Real economic development nothing to do with real estate, and this is something Jane taught us in The Economy of Cities," Gratz said. "Economic development is an activity that comes first. The buildings to house it comes second. Jane used to say you cannot build the ovens and expect the loaves to jump in. What we've been hearing about, and talking about, are the loaves. That's why it's been such a stimulating discussion."


Posted by eric at 10:51 AM

October 22, 2010

MAS Survey on Livability: people say they're satisfied, but dismay regarding (over)development seeps out

Atlantic Yards Report

Though a Municipal Art Society (MAS) survey on livability released yesterday garnered headlines for its seemingly counter-intuitive conclusion that most New Yorkers are happy and find the city livable, it also contains signs of significant discontent regarding development.

And that wariness--72 percent seemingly oppose new housing or housing beyond existing scale in their neighborhoods--suggests a tension between those who like neighborhood scale and the Bloomberg administration's expectation of another 1 million people here by 2030.

Results of this initial poll were not particularly subtle--it would be important to understand attitudes toward development teased out by type of neighborhood, zoning, and transportation options, because the key question is fitting increased density to neighborhoods that can handle it.


Posted by eric at 11:40 AM

October 21, 2010

Reflections on What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs, and the lessons for New York and beyond

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes a second look at What We See, the compendium of essays reflecting on Jane Jacobs and her work published this spring, and, no surprise, Atlantic Yards makes an appearance or two.

Note that, when the book was published in May, [Stephen A.] Goldsmith (former Planning Director in Salt Lake City) told Gothamist in an interview:

Large scale projects such as transit infrastructure aside, what we see today are developers who like to fake authenticity at a large scale, who appropriate front porches or mixed-use development as though these ingredients will salvage bad ideas. The ability to design and build large scale projects such as Atlantic Yards has not been stopped, and as as result the people of Brooklyn will have to endure still-unknown consequences of these poor choices.

In an epilogue titled Jane's Cup of Tea, civic and social organizer Mary Rowe reflects:

Jane was not sentimental. I had always understood the word to describe a kind of saccharine-sweet, closing fondness for something in the past, but Jane corrected my misunderstanding of the term. To be sentimental was to remember something in an idealized way, which was anathema to her. Many of Jane's reflections about why government policies (and their makers) were so often anti-city were rooted in her observations of this culture's penchant for rural sentimentality.

Were some Atlantic Yards opponents sentimental about not changing neighborhoods? Yes. But they also came up with practical potential solutions.

Are some Atlantic Yards supporters sentimental? Isn't attachment to 10,000 phantom jobs sentimental?


Posted by eric at 3:38 PM

October 20, 2010

The Bloomberg administration and Jane Jacobs: the consonance and the disconnect

Atlantic Yards Report

It was a convivial, heartfelt event on Monday night, October 18, when the Rockefeller Foundation awarded the fourth annual Jane Jacobs Medals for new activism and career activism.

Both categories of awards were richly deserved. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, founder of the Central Park Conservancy, helped revive the city's jewel, once shockingly deteriorated and neglected.

Josh David and Robert Hammond, founder of Friends of the High Line, saw civic possibilities in a long-neglected piece of infrastructure slated for demolition.

And the presenters of each award, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden, respectively, could proudly, affectionately claim mayoral endorsement for both projects.

And the disconnect

But we shouldn't be misled into thinking that the administration of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and followers of famed urbanist Jane Jacobs are always on the same page.

Consider that, in a video shown to attendees, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger expressed his amazement--as he has written--that backers of the West Side Stadium portrayed the gargantuan project as expressing Jacobsian mixed-use ideals because it contained retail elements at the street level.

Bloomberg, of course, backed the West Side Stadium to the hilt.

Consider that, in one of her last public statements, Jacobs, who had long lived in Toronto but maintained affection for and attention to New York City, wrote a tough open letter criticizing the Bloomberg administration's plans for rezoning Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

Such criticisms have even more weight today, when those neighborhoods face a disproportionate share of stalled construction sites.

And consider that Benepe and Burden, however committed they are to the Jacobsian ideals, have had to swallow and endorse some very questionable moves by the mayor who appointed them, such as the loss of parkland for a new Yankee Stadium, or the creation of superblocks and surface parking on behalf of the Atlantic Yards project.


Posted by eric at 10:31 AM

October 2, 2010

Comptroller's Task Force Releases CBA Report Based Partly On Lessons Learned From Bronx Projects

Bronx News Network

This review of this week's report issued by Comptroller John Liu's office includes the Atlantic Yards CBA as an example of a poorly-done community benefits agreement.

While strong CBAs, including some with living wage guarantees, were being signed in other big cities around the country, developers in New York City, backed by it's pro-development (with no string attached) mayor, was late to the game. Some CBAs were signed -- at Atlantic Yards (Brooklyn), the new Yankee Stadium (Bronx) and the Gateway Center Mall (Bronx) -- but they lacked teeth and true community involvement, community and job advocates charged.


Posted by steve at 8:19 AM

September 30, 2010

Brooklyn Tornadoes and a Cool-Headed Appraisal of Weather Weirding in New York

Noticing New York

Only Michael D.D. White would even think about trying to tie together tornadoes, blizzards, rising sea levels, hydrofracking and Atlantic Yards, but wouldn't you know, he pulls it off.

First, his own warning:

Get ready: This is going to be about New York and the environment in some very, very big-picture terms.

We confess we found ourselves initially irritated by the “apocalyptic thinking” of the “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront,” show at the Museum of Modern Art.

Its grand scale thinking made us uncomfortably ill at ease, reminding us of the kind of from-on-high it-is-easy-to-replace-everything planning arrogance* that is, for example, associated with Coney Island’s destruction.

(* Sure, its easy enough to tear down a portion of Prospect Heights, including newly renovated buildings, to construct the murkily unparticularized “Atlantic Yards” but the ability to actually fill in this hole developer Bruce Ratner created in the neighborhood becomes a theoretical maybe-someday exercise when the developer says of replacement construction: “it's really market-dependent as to when it will really be completed.”)

Storm Surge Barriers?

I was at the New York City Council during little reported hearings where the possibility and expense of buildings storm surge barriers was discussed. It’s done in the Netherlands. The cost was estimated at $5 billion and possible because there are only a few choke points in the harbor that would need to be addressed. Naturally, any public work estimated to cost $5 billion will probably cost more: The Brooklyn Bridge (built during the reign of Boss Tweed) cost more than twice its original estimate. But $5 billion is not much more than all the public subsidies we are putting into the Atlantic Yards project; money spent on such barriers would be for infrastructure of benefit to all rather than subsidizing one development firm’s private profit at the expense of others and wouldn’t even $10 billion likely be a small cost compared to the cost of a catastrophic storm surge?


Posted by eric at 12:52 PM

Liu’s CBA task force recommends reforms; dissenters say it will foster too many CBAs; report buffs AY CBA but guidelines might have reined it in

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder offers an in-depth report on

In a report issued not without dissention, the Task Force on Public Benefit Agreements (PBAs) yesterday delivered to Comptroller John Liu “a proposed framework for public benefit agreements in New York City that would create clear expectations, encourage broad-based participation and result in enforceable public benefits that comply with legal standards.”

Included is an increased opportunity for community input by community boards, local elected officials, and small businesses; by contrast, the Atlantic Yards CBA was negotiated very quietly. Also, given that CBAs like the Atlantic Yards CBA are essentially unenforceable (except by signatories with no incentive to go to court), the Task Force recommended several enforceability mechanisms. Such CBAs also would be monitored by the Comptroller.

Notably, the report (PDF and embedded below) states that “the primary purpose of a benefit agreement is to mitigate project-related impacts”--a rationale absent from the Atlantic Yards CBA, in which the single largest component is affordable housing, a provision that could have been incorporated into any upzoning but which is not a specific response to the loss of housing on the AY site.

Still, the report’s rather rosy view of the Atlantic Yards CBA, the first in the city, may have contributed to the willingness to endorse CBAs.

Rosy view of AY CBA

As discussed below, the report makes no mention of the payments developer Forest City Ratner has made to its CBA “partners”--a practice CBA experts warn against, nor FCR's bail-out of ACORN.

Nor does it cite the criticism by three local community boards that FCR overstated their involvement.

Among the Task Force Members were Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone of Forest City Ratner, and Darnell Canada of Real Economics Building Unity and Innovative Local Development (REBUILD), notable for his public threats at a hearing on AY environmental impacts. Task Force member Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York in 2005 publicly criticized the AY CBA as diverging significantly from more transparent ones in Los Angeles.

Vitullo-Martin added, "Part of the problem is that Atlantic Yards is now so embedded in how people think about CBAs that it can't easily be ripped away--and once you start, you're likely to conclude CBAs aren't a good idea."


Related coverage...

Crain's NY Business, Controversial benefit-agreement report aired

According to the city, the first benefit agreement was executed in 2005 between Forest City Ratner Cos. and a coalition of eight organizations in connection with a large mixed-use development at Atlantic Yards. Since then, local benefit agreements have been used for other major projects across the city, including Yankee Stadium and Columbia University's Manhattanville expansion.

NoLandGrab: What do all those projects have in common? The crappy "community benefits" can't begin to make up for seizure of private property or public parks.

City Hall News, Liu To Release CBA Report, Positioning For Greater Role In City Development

The task force evaluated the four CBAs that have been signed in the city: Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, Yankee Stadium and the Gateway Center in the Bronx and the Columbia expansion in upper Manhattan, as well as 14 CBAs from elsewhere in the country.

The Wall Street Journal, Liu Task Force In Disarray

A task force charged by New York City Comptroller John Liu with examining what the city can and should demand from developers of publicly subsidized projects ended its work mired in dissension, with frustrated panel members resigning or refusing to sign the final report to be released Wednesday.

The flurry of resignations and the level of discord on the panel cast a dark shadow over an initiative that Mr. Liu and his aides heralded as one of the hallmarks of his first nine months in office. Mr. Liu, a former city councilman, is a potential candidate for mayor in 2013.

In response to an inquiry from The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Liu's office disclosed late Tuesday that four members of the task force have resigned and another four members are refusing to sign the final report. The report has 29 signatures attached to it.

Posted by eric at 12:20 PM

September 23, 2010

Public information meeting on plaza design for arena will be held September 29 at Borough Hall

Atlantic Yards Report

Well, there won't be the Urban Room Frank Gehry promised, but there will be an "urban plaza" or "urban experience." And we'll learn more about it next Wednesday.

(There's also a formally unrelated--but conceptually related--meeting next Tuesday about streetscape improvements on Flatbush Avenue, from Atlantic Avenue to Grand Army Plaza.)

From a notice distributed by Community Board 6:

Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, with Council Members Letitia James, Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, Empire State Development Corporation, Brooklyn Community Boards 2, 6 and 8 present a PUBLIC INFORMATION MEETING for the Plaza Design at the Barclays Center.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street (at Court Street)

Representatives will be present from Forest City Ratner Companies to brief interested residents on plans for the public plaza in front of the arena. There will be a Q&A session.


Posted by eric at 10:42 AM

Public information meeting on Flatbush streetscape improvement project will be held September 28 at CNR

Atlantic Yards Report

The progressive and conscientious North Flatbush Avenue BID is kicking off a major streetscape improvement, a process that won't be made any easier by Bruce Ratner's mega-construction project.

The North Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) has secured close to $3M is capital funding for its streetscape project, and the New York City Department of Transportation will present scoping and conceptual designs to the Transportation Committees of Community Board 6 and 8.

All neighbors, businesses, and organizations are invited to view the plans for Flatbush Avenue and to offer input or comments. The plans include a remake of the Triangle Parks at Carlton, 6th, 7th, and 8th Avenues.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010, 7:00PM
Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation
727 Classon Avenue


Posted by eric at 9:36 AM

September 21, 2010

PlaNYC guru plays West Village; gig sold out

Capital New York
by Katharine Jose

Behind Michael Bloomberg’s long-term plan for the city is a Danish professor and urban planner named Jan Gehl, who for several years has been quietly, if not slowly, guiding the remaking of New York.

Gehl is a legend in his field. Events at the Center for Architecture in the West Village are always well-attended, but Wednesday night there were, among other signs of something remarkable, a line to get in the door that stretched halfway down the block, overflow seating on the first floor that would beam the lecture from the gallery two floors down, and reserved seating for the press, almost all of which was occupied.

It's the “Brasilia Syndrome,” he said, referring to the capital of Brazil, which was built from a master plan in the late ‘50s. “It looked fantastic from a airplane,” but “at ground level, it was shit.” Gehl said much the same thing about Dubai, where he felt as if he were at “an exhibition of perfume bottles.” (He also showed a slide of Atlantic Yards, which drew audible approval.)

Gehl called the authors of these developments “birdshit architects,” because they are “planning from high above and dropping their things down.” Building towers, he said, makes “a collection of towers." The prospectus drawings are filled with “happy people” milling about and carrying out “unspecified” public activities.


NoLandGrab: "Approval" as in they agreed about how horrible Atlantic Yards is, or because they're out of their freakin' minds?

Posted by eric at 10:36 AM

September 12, 2010

How did the Ward Bakery go unprotected? "The key is what the [Landmarks Preservation] commission avoids doing."

Atlantic Yards Report

There's an important clue regarding the fate of the Ward Bakery, now demolished, in The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, by Roberta Brandes Gratz.

Writes Gratz, a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission:

The fundamental dilemma of the Landmarks Preservation Commission is the conflict between preservation and new development in a city where real estate ownership trumps all else in access to power and influence… But when a site does get put on the commission calendar to be considered… the public hearing process is quite admirable.. The measure of the commission is not just what gets designated a landmark or a landmark district. The key is what the commission avoids doing.

Indeed, the commission, which is controlled by the mayor, avoided considering the Ward Bakery in its map of the new Prospect Heights Historic District.

Today's panel

Gratz will be on a panel at 1 pm today at the Brooklyn Book Festival:

Change Is Gonna Come: The Fluid Life of New York City. In a city like New York, change is constant. Yet with that change comes numerous and oftentimes competing interests. Sharon Zukin (Naked City), Roberta Brandes Gratz (The Battle for Gotham), Jonathan Soffer (Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City) and Martin Lemelman (Two Cents Plain) consider the perpetual ebb and flow of the Big Apple and how it affects us all.


Posted by steve at 10:57 AM

A Downtown Hub Is Missed, and a Replacement Is Stalled

New York Times
By Abby Goodnough

The Times seems to be able to summon up regret for the destruction of Filene's Basement in Boston for a project that may never happen. Where is the concern for the Prospect Heights blocks that will be destroyed for the Atlantic Yards project which will only bring an arena and acres of parking lots for decades?

Two years have passed since the demolition of Filene’s Basement, where generations of Bostonians tussled over cut-rate designer clothes in a dingy but fiercely loved downtown store.

It was razed two years ago, and a $700 million tower, with a replacement store, was to rise at the site. The project was halted by the recession.

In its place, a $700 million tower was to rise with offices, condominiums, a hotel and a new Filene’s for the bargain hungry. But the recession halted the project, possibly for good, leaving Boston with a deserted construction pit in one of its busiest neighborhoods.


While such scars on the landscape are common these days, cities that gave up iconic buildings or businesses for outsize projects that may now never happen are suffering from a rising sense of regret.


Posted by steve at 10:19 AM

September 9, 2010

From "Intractable Democracy," the tension between regional and local; also, RPA's Marshall sees power imbalance as source of (discredited) superblocks

Atlantic Yards Report

In Intractable Democracy: Fifty Years of Community-Based Planning, a new collection of articles and interviews by and with people associated with the Pratt Institute City and Regional Planning Program, there's an intriguing article by Michael Flynn, director of capital planning at the New York City Department of Transportation.

As a community planner turned city bureaucrat, Flynn knows well the tension between bottom-up planning and municipal power, and knows that it's not easy to resolve.

He muses:

One thing that's become clear to me over time (and I can hear the cries of "Sellout!" now) is that there is an interesting tension between the concept of community-based planning and the institution of government in general. It's the same tension we're all familiar with between the archetypes of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. We humans clearly organized ourselves into societies, and evolved government to tackle problems that must be addressed collectively and to look out for the common good. As planners we understand from experience that some issues are too spread out, too interlinked, or to "acute costs, diffuse benefits" to be tackled at a granular level. Sometimes the good of the many must trump the good of the few, or the regional must trump the local.

On the other hand, what good is government if it's not responsive to the needs of communities. What good is power without a grounding in real hopes, real concerns, real lives? At least when it comes to local issues, who better to decide the fate of a community than the locals themselves? The question is, where is the proper balance between community-based planning and getting things done for the greater good? For example, is it more important that the city have a citywide, interlinked network of bike paths, or should communities who don't want bike lanes have the final say? Should we price on-street parking higher because it's been proven to improve turnover and reduce congestion, or acquiesce to local businesses who think cheaper parking will improve foot traffic?

These are questions that localities everywhere face not just New York City. I sure don't know the answer--like most things, it probably lies somewhere in between the extremes.

The AY angle

These questions came up, of course, with Atlantic Yards. Issues like affordable housing and the siting of a major sports facility are not merely local issues. But they have disproportionate local impact, so a planning process should take into account local considerations, as well the balance between public and private benefits.


Posted by eric at 10:54 AM

September 4, 2010

"Stealing the common from the goose": Henry Stern's compelling case against 15 Penn Plaza (and the glaring Atlantic Yards blind spot)

Atlantic Yards Report

Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern was absent during the Atlantic Yards fight. He is now arguing against a variance being requested in Manhattan using much of the same reasoning as opponents of Atlantic Yards used.

Henry Stern, the former Parks Commissioner and founder of the watchdog group New York Civic, has written a compelling column, Gargantuan Tower Approved Two Blocks From King Kong, regarding the city's approval of 15 Penn Plaza, Vornado's fat skyscraper near Penn Station. (It's also on HuffPost, as The Great Giveaway.)

His point, relying on Community Board arguments, is that the issue is not accepting "change" or blocking a view from the Empire State Building, but whether a connected developer gets a set of variances to build 56% bigger than officially allowed.

(I referenced this point as well when I wrote about the issue on August 24, but could have emphasized it more.)

And his rhetoric is firm:

We believe that what happened in this case is a textbook example of unsound public policy, favoritism to a particular extremely well-connected developer, and lack of regard for the future of the commercial neighborhood around Penn and Moynihan Stations. To grant a massive upgrade to a property owner with no tenant, no financing and no immediate plans to build is premature and irresponsible.

...It is a top-down decision, clearly made at City Hall and not by the Planning Commission, which should have been embarrassed at the tricks they had to turn.

The blind spot

Sounds like... another top-down decision, the approval of Atlantic Yards, that had even less process, because the state, not the city, is in charge.

Remember, while Forest City Ratner very much wanted to build an arena, given the New Jersey Nets' losses at the Izod Center, the main tower, Building 1 (aka Miss Brooklyn), has no financing or tenant, the affordable housing depends on scarce subsidies, and the officially-stated plan to build the 16 towers in a decade is chimerical.

And remember, Forest City Ratner promised not to block the clock of the Williamsburgh Bank tower, but then it did, even after Miss Brooklyn was made a foot shorter than its neighbor, at the ostensible behest of the City Planning Commission, which should have been embarrassed at the tricks they had to turn.

But Stern is Bruce Ratner's old mentor, and Ratner has contributed to New York Civic. So Stern's critical scrutiny has reliably bypassed Atlantic Yards.


Posted by steve at 7:54 AM

August 29, 2010

Our Cities Ourselves: 10 Principles for Transport in Urban Life (and the AY contradiction)

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes a look at issues urban planning.

A nifty exhibition,Our Cities Ourselves, is on view until September 11, 2010 at the Center for Architecture in Greenwich Village (Mon-Fri: 9am to 8pm; Sat: 11am to 5pm).

It shows ten architects' treatment of potential changes in ten world cities--nearly all in developing nations.

Accompanying the exhibition is a publication titled "Our Cities Ourselves: 10 Principles for Transport in Urban Life," written by internationally famous Danish urbanist Jan Gehl and Walter Hook, Executive Director of the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

"Cities of the twenty-first century should be lively cities, safe cities, sustainable cities and healthy cities," said Gehl in a news release. "All of these qualities can be achieved if we embrace these ten principles, which means putting people first."

The principles and Atlantic Yards

Notably, two of the ten principles of sustainable transport don't quite work when it comes to Atlantic Yards.

The project would not have "small-size, permeable buildings and blocks" that enhance pedestrian life, as suggested above. In fact, it would create two superblocks.

And while the project would involve density around transit, as suggested at right, that won't necessarily make it a desirable urban district, given the level of density intended, the parking included, and the attendant traffic.

Read the full blog post to see the complete listing of 10 Principles for Transport in Urban Life.


NoLandGrab: An exhibit like "Our Cities Ourselves" might elicit groans from those who realize how a great opportunity for urban planning was lost when Atlantic Yards was approved by the state.

Posted by steve at 9:52 AM

August 12, 2010

A caution on Hong Kong envy, an Atlantic Yards cameo, and Jane Jacobs

Atlantic Yards Report

I have an essay in the online publication Urban Omnibus (a project of the Architectural League of New York) this week headlined A Caution on Hong Kong Envy, pointing out the tension between the enthusiasm of New York officials for Hong Kong's rational, high-rise development and the dismay Hong Kong residents feel at top-down planning, as shown at two recent conferences.

Yes, there's a happy medium to be sought, and New York--where density is unevenly distributed both within the city and within the region--is coming from a different direction than is Hong Kong, which went high-rise at warp speed in the mid-20th century.

The AY angle

And yes, there's an Atlantic Yards angle. As I write:

Or consider how the Port Authority’s [Executive Director Christopher] Ward, at the New York conference, suggested that the resistance to the massive Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn stemmed from locals’ discomfort with a dramatic shift in density. While that shift surely generated dismay, an equal measure of discomfort derives from the perception that Atlantic Yards has been a sweetheart deal, with a single developer anointed public land before any planning process, and with public amenities such as open space coming late rather than early. in Hong Kong, it’s important to get the balance right between the development business and the central authorities entrusted with the public interest.

After all, Atlantic Yards opponents did wind up supporting the Unity Plan, which would have high density, though not as much, and essentially limited to the railyards.


Related content...

Urban Omnibus, A Caution on Hong Kong Envy

Posted by eric at 10:41 AM

July 22, 2010

Creating Open Space Takes Politics and Planning

Gotham Gazette
by Anne Schwartz

In the 1970s, who could have predicted that in 2010, New Yorkers would take yoga classes on a lush lawn in Bryant Park, enjoy a lunch break in the middle of Broadway or bike to work along the Hudson River? With the restoration of so many parks and the creation of new ones like the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park, outdoor public spaces have become central to life in New York City in a way that hardly could have been imagined just a few decades ago.

The key to success is a fair, inclusive and transparent master planning process based on an assessment and analysis of current conditions, needs, benefits and public interest and willingness to pay. "It doesn’t do any good to have an open process for soliciting input if the process for making decisions is then secretive, biased or preordained," [park expert Peter Harnik] writes.

"As seeds for regrowth, parks are key," Harnik writes. "But they must be reserved, designed and placed in advance of the built environment that will surround them," which, he notes, doesn't come naturally in this country -- or, one might add, in New York City. The city's development-driven culture has led to missed opportunities to create large areas of new parkland around which housing and commerce can grow.

One example is the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, where an arena and 16 apartment towers are being built partly on a deck covering the Metropolitan Transportation Authority railyards. The green space between the apartment buildings is slated to be added last, leading many to fear it will never exist. And even if the project and its parks are completed as planned, a neighborhood with a severe shortage of parks and sports fields will end up with a slightly lower ratio of parkland to resident than it now has.

Harnik's book inspires a momentary fantasy of what downtown Brooklyn might have looked like with a new central green space -- one that could have been funded with part of the nearly $300 million subsidy the city and state provided for the arena. A park might even have generated a greater economic return than the arena.


NoLandGrab: In the case of Atlantic Yards, the "publicly accessible private open space" is not a park in any sense of the word, but rather Ratner's cost of doing business — the bare minimum cost, we might add.

Posted by eric at 10:55 AM

The land use issue won't go away, even if the Charter Commission won't get to it this year

Atlantic Yards Report

After spending the day today at Land Use and Local Voices, a conference co-sponsored by the Municipal Art Society and Manhattan Community Board 1, I can safely say that both experts and engaged citizens know there's something wrong with the current process.

There's a significant need to give local voices more credence (though not a veto), while recognizing that land use has borough-wide and city-wide implications.

And while the Charter Revision Commission doesn't have time this year to address land use, if it's reappointed, it should--though some at the conference were doubtful the commission would go beyond the promised issue of term limits.

(I'll have a report on the conference, in which Atlantic Yards was again invoked as an example of a Community Benefits Agreement gone wrong, at a later date.)


Posted by eric at 10:44 AM

July 21, 2010

Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses: some (Doctoroff, Burden) say you can have it both ways, and some (Gratz) say you can't

Atlantic Yards Report

There are two kinds of people in the world of urbanism, apparently: those who think you can meld or navigate the difference between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, and those who think you can't.

Former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff is among the former groups. Asked July 8 if there was a simplistic either/or divide or a continuum, he replied, "“I don't think it is true any more, and I certainly think that the way we went about things, which was by no means perfect but we learned a lot along the way, is evidence that you can have it both ways."

CPC Chair Burden

Last night, at the third of the Architectural League's Conversations on New York, City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden sounded a similar note. Discussing the legacy of the Bloomberg administration, she observed, "I would say we've been able to have the city grow in place," able to accommodate new New Yorkers and access the waterfront.

She said it was her personal emphasis to "focus on the public realm... to end up with a vibrant street life." In that way," she continued, "We plan on a Robert Moses sort of scale, at least a number of these rezonings, but we judge ourselves by a Jane Jacobs scale."

In the age of Jacobs

Her interlocutor, critic and author Paul Goldberger, was too busy and/or polite to point out that, as he wrote in his 2004 book Up From Zero, about the contested process to rebuild the World Trade Center site, that it's never simple:

We may well be living in the age of Jane Jacobs, as opposed to the age of Robert Moses, but we also live in the age of marketing, and it is common today to see large projects presented as if they epitomized the small-scale, naturally occurring urban values Jacobs espoused.


NoLandGrab: "Vibrant street life?" Like Brooklyn's 4th Avenue?

Posted by eric at 11:50 AM

Jane Jacobs, esthete? (or why the High Line belongs in the Metro section)

Atlantic Yards Report

While urbanism certainly encompasses questions of design, it equally involves politics, policy, and economics. So it was a little jarring to see, in today's New York Times, news that High Line Founders To Get Jane Jacobs Medal appear in the Arts section.

The High Line is a spectacular new park and, while it's spurred inventive architecture, it belongs in the Metro section. Last week, a front-page Times article about the High Line's notable ripple effects, After High Line’s Success, Other Cities Look Up, began on the front page, but jumped to the Metro section.

Oddly enough, online that article is assigned to the arts desk.


Posted by eric at 11:31 AM

July 19, 2010

Doctoroff, updated, with video: was there really any "citywide planning"

Atlantic Yards Report

Had there been citywide planning, then Winston Von Engel, Deputy Director of the Brooklyn office of the Department of City Planning, wouldn't have said in March 2006. "We concentrated on the Downtown Brooklyn development plan for Downtown Brooklyn. Forest City Ratner owns property across the way. And they saw the yards, and looked at those. We had not been considering the yards directly."

Had there been citywide planning, there would have been a fair bidding process for the railyard and for the project rather than one developer with an inside track.

Had there been citywide planning, some agency would have been responsible for the weeds that meant the railyard appeared blighted.

Had there been citywide planning, the project would have--as Doctoroff agrees in retrospect--gone through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

Had there been citywide planning, there would have been much less parking approved.

Had there been citywide planning, public transportation would be enhanced.

Had there been citywide planning, there would have been a real cost-benefit analysis.

Had there been citywide planning, Bruce Ratner would not have been able to say, as he did at the groundbreaking in March, that, when he met with Mayor Mike Bloomgerg in July 2003, some five months before the project was publicly unveiled, that the mayor declared, "Let's get this done."


Posted by eric at 11:18 PM

Citizens Union: "there is a need to integrate 21st century security concerns into land use decision-making"

Atlantic Yards Report

Remember the issue of security?

The good-government group Citizens Union (CU), in its lengthy comments to the Charter Revision Commission on land use and other issues (more here), says "there is a need to integrate 21st century security concerns into land use decision-making."

Oh. The CU was never out front on Atlantic Yards, and its comment do not specifically invoke AY, but they essentially back up concerns by AY opponents and critics that terrorism and security should have been considered not merely--as they surely have been--by the developer and the police, but in the environmental review.

As of now, no streets are supposed to be closed outside the Atlantic Yards arena, even though--at least in a previous incarnation--the distance to the arena was no greater than at the Prudential Center in Newark, where streets are closed.

(Given the re-orientation of the arena, the distance from the street, at least on Flatbush Avenue, likely would be greater.)


NoLandGrab: Norman Oder might be correct about the Flatbush Avenue setback, but this Michael D.D. White photo of the Barclays Center model makes it look like the arena will virtually overhang Atlantic Avenue — surely a security no-no.

Posted by eric at 1:21 PM

Citizens Union to Charter Commission: some sharing of power needed, but not fundamental change (hearing tonight)

Atlantic Yards Report

The venerable good-government group Citizens Union (CU), as I wrote in March, has played it carefully regarding Atlantic Yards, in December 2006 calling for a “limited delay” but saying it “does not align itself with those who oppose the project"--and never speaking out further.

Now the CU, which has a special role in the Charter Revision Commission's work, is also playing it carefully, proposing reforms--some of which (land use review regarding security and architectural character) could affect future Atlantic Yards-like projects, at least if they are be subject to city review.

But those reforms would not fundamentally change the power balance in the city.

CU will present its 49 recommendation to the Commission at a hearing tonight at 6 pm at Brooklyn College, the first of five hearings [PDF] in response to a preliminary staff report.

That report scanted issues of land use and concerns about local decisionmaking (as pointed out by Brooklyn representative Carlo Scissura, Borough President Marty Markowitz's Chief of Staff), but stressed term limits and instant runoff voting (IRV)--the latter of which apparently has already been dropped.


Posted by eric at 12:34 PM

July 14, 2010

Virtually ignored by the Charter Commission report: a strong mayor, weak Borough Presidents, and the fact that there's "no real local government"

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder files another report on the review of New York City's Charter.

The news from the city's Charter Revision Commission is that a vote on term limits (and maybe Instant Runoff Voting) are apparently on the agenda, but more substantive change, regarding issues like more public input into land use and expanded power of Borough Presidents, is not.

That's plausible, given the tight schedule to get measures on the November ballot, but the commission's staff report was dismissively brief, ignoring many legitimate criticisms posed by the Borough Presidents and others.

As the Staten Island Advance reported yesterday, that ticked off one Commission member:

"The fact the conversation on borough presidents and community boards warrants maybe two paragraphs, to me is utterly disrespectful to the communities," said Carlo A. Scissura, who is chief of staff to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Almost as disrespectful as the sham Atlantic Yards "process" that his boss so heartily embraced.

The fundamental problem

The failure to address the BPs' concerns reflects a larger issue, one that doesn't get traction in the Commission report, and one that explains the hundred successful rezonings under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his ability to get agencies to march in lockstep to support projects like Atlantic Yards.

"The fundamental principle in this city is that there’s no real local government," suggested Gerald Benjamin, a professor at SUNY New Paltz, speaking at a June 10 hearing of the Commission.


Posted by eric at 9:57 AM

July 13, 2010

Charter Panel's Narrow Scope Stirs Concerns

When the Charter Revision Commission meets Monday night, it will weigh its staff's recommendations against advocates' calls for a wider vision.

City Limits
by Jarrett Murphy

The site of the Atlantic Yards development, the biggest land use battle in recent memory. Advocates and developers both want changes to the city's land use process, but the staff of the Charter Revision Commission has recommended that those questions be put off to a later day.


Photo: Marc Fader/City Limits

Posted by eric at 11:03 AM

July 12, 2010

At Charter Commission hearing, most invited panelists support ULURP; Angotti, BPs, civic groups, call for planning, not zoning; AY gets a cameo

Atlantic Yards Report

The New York City Charter Revision Commission hearing on June 24 aired some important testimony on land use reform, to relatively little coverage, and though land use is not on the agenda this year, the issues deserve discussion.

The gist of the expert testimony--four of five those invited--was that the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) pretty much works, and shouldn't be amended. (There was also a lot of criticism of Community Benefit Agreements, as I've written.)

The one outlier, urban planning professor Tom Angotti of Hunter College--also an advisor to the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods on Atlantic Yards issues--disagreed, laying out in great detail the flaws in ULURP.

He suggested that greater weight (though not a veto) be given to the advisory opinions of local Community Boards and arguing for greater transparency in the pre-ULURP negotiations.

Also see Angotti's essay in the July Gotham Gazette, headlined Charting a Better Way for Planning and Community Boards, which questions for example, the continuing validity of a side agreement between then-Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and then-City Council Member John Liu regarding the Flushing Commons project in Queens.

(Coming July 21: a free conference titled Land Use and Local Voices: Is the City’s Land Use Process in Need of Reform?, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society and Manhattan Community Board 1.)

The Atlantic Yards exception

Barely mentioned was that state projects like Atlantic Yards avoid ULURP completely, with no weight at all given to the Community Boards; one expert, Vishaan Chakrabarti of Columbia University's real estate program, said it was "inappropriate" for the state to control such projects.

(The three affected Community Boards all expressed opposition or significant concern.)

Atlantic Yards did play an awkward cameo role in a question from a commission member, who wondered--without recognizing how AY avoided ULURP--how the charter might allow for community participation in discussions about the "horrific" traffic generated by the arena.


NoLandGrab: While many Atlantic Yards opponents and critics called for the project to go through ULURP, it was because some process was better than no process. Clearly, it was not an endorsement of what is, as Professor Angotti pointed out, a deeply flawed mechanism.

Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, CB 8 Chairperson to Charter Commission: "Too often developers seek loopholes to avoid the input of the community they are attempting to infiltrate"

In the Charter Revision Commission hearing June 24 on Land Use, Nizjoni Granville, Chairperson of Brooklyn Community Board 8, was the second public speaker after the expert panel (covered here), appearing at about the 2:20 mark (webcast).

Like some other commentators, she asked for Community Boards to have more than advisory power in the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

And while Granville didn't name any names, and some of her testimony referenced supportive housing projects, her statements that "developers seek loopholes to avoid the input of the community they are attempting to infiltrate" and "developers are able to circumvent the process if they receive government funds that are not obtained from New York City" sure sound to me like references to Atlantic Yards.

As I wrote 10/1/06, Community Board 8, which takes in part of the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint at its western tip, didn't take a harsh official stance toward the project as did Community Board 6, but it did submit numerous letters of concern from Executive Committee members and area residents to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Granville, who is something of a skeptic regarding Atlantic Yards, was elected Chairperson in June 2009 over a project supporter, though it can't be said AY was the deciding issue.

Posted by eric at 11:44 AM

July 11, 2010

A caution on public-private partnerships when it comes to parks

Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards is supposed to be a public-private partnership (or, more likely, a private-public partnership), but developer Bruce Ratner famously told Crain's last November, "Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."

So the public-private balance is tough to navigate--and not just with development projects. And it tells a story about city mayors, including Mike Bloomberg.

Read the rest of this blog post to see how, despite claims by the city that "private investment allows it to target limited taxpayer resources to the parks most in need," showplaces like Central Park prosper while much city parkland is neglected. Lack of city funding is cited. Spending by the city for parks maintenance and operations has dropped from 1.4 percent of city funds in 1960 to 0.37 percent in the latest budget.


Posted by steve at 8:42 AM

June 27, 2010

Greg David of Crain's: Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff "orchestrated" Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Within a 25th anniversary retrospective headlined New York City: Then & Now: Whether in a real estate boom or fiscal bust, NYC revolves around Wall Street's siren song, Greg David of Crain's New York Business offers a section about former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff, with a paragraph about Atlantic Yards:

Even without the Olympics as a rationale, he made remarkable progress. At the end of 2006, he conceived of a way for the city to finance a subway-line extension to Hudson Yards on the West Side, where he envisioned a multibillion-dollar residential and commercial neighborhood. Behind the scenes, he orchestrated the approval of a massive mixed-used project at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, anchored by an arena for the New Jersey Nets basketball team.

Well, he helped orchestrate the approval--it's a state project, not a city one--and, more likely, orchestrated the package of city subsidies and the city's unswerving commitment to the project.

Note how David concludes that Atlantic Yards is and was a place, not a project.


Posted by steve at 8:04 AM

June 23, 2010

Charter Revision Commission hearing Thursday on land use

Atlantic Yards Report

The New York City Charter Revision Commission meets tomorrow night, June 24, to hear testimony on whether land use reform should be part of the charter revision on the ballot later this year.

It will begin at 6 pm at the Flushing Branch, Queens Borough Public Library, 41-17 Main Street, Flushing.

As with previous hearings, it will begin with expert testimony but later accept brief public testimony (with time limits). The hearing will be streamed and archived.

Many commentators have suggested that the commission--which, despite outreach, has been pretty much under the radar--stick to very simple proposals, such as term limits, given the complexity of such issues as land use.


Posted by eric at 9:18 AM

June 21, 2010

Smart growth bill passes, suggests that public infrastructure be prioritized for downtown developments--but with community-based planning (unlike AY)

Atlantic Yards Report

Both the state Assembly and Senate last week passed a bill establishing a state smart growth public infrastructure policy.

On one level, the bill--which offers guidance rather than anything enforceable and does not apply to projects already in process--seems to argue for projects like Atlantic Yards, high-density developments near transit.

But a closer look suggests some contradictions.


Posted by eric at 10:58 AM

June 18, 2010

Planner Garvin on Atlantic Yards: “A single site rezoned for a single owner with a set of towers and an arena. That's not a public realm."

Atlantic Yards Report

Architect, planner, and educator Alexander Garvin is hardly an anti-development NIMBY. He calls himself pro-development and is proud of his work steering the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) and serving as managing director of the NYC 2012 Olympics effort.

But Garvin, stubbornly enough, is a believer in the public realm--streets, parks, transit system--and thinks that’s where government investment should go, and the private development will follow.

He believes in clear rules and an even playing field, rather than a governmental attempt to pick winners.

And that means that he can’t avoid taking shots at Atlantic Yards as an example of where things went wrong, a project where the public realm was scanted in favor of a single developer and the city's land use review process was circumvented.

Last night, he discussed the major planning ventures with which he’s been involved, part of “Conversations on New York,” sponsored by the Architectural League, in conjunction with its exhibition The City We Imagined/The City We Made: New New York 2001-2010 (which will move to Governors Island next month).

Criticizing AY

“Atlantic Yards: what kind of public realm is there? None,” he responded rhetorically. “A single site rezoned for a single owner with a set of towers and an arena. That's not a public realm. If you're going to increase what you can support on the site, you need to be able to support them with something, such as community facilities, mass transit, and streets, and I have a problem when the upzoning isn't related to that.”

Actually, Atlantic Yards is not an upzoning but an override of zoning. There might be some new facilities, but the timing of a school and a day care center is unclear, and dependent on public money. Meanwhile, streets have been subtracted, rather than added, and there’s no opportunity for multiple developers to bid on separate sites.


Posted by eric at 10:19 AM

May 14, 2010

Stephen Goldsmith, Editor of What We See

by Jake Dobkin

It's been more than four years since urbanist and activist Jane Jacobs passed away, but the issues she focused on during her life seem more pressing than ever: how to build successful neighborhoods and cities, the economic survival of small business in the face of development, and the effects of mega-projects like Atlantic Yards. This month, New Village Press published "What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs"- we asked Stephen Goldsmith, one of the books editors, about Jane Jacobs' life and legacy.

Jane Jacobs' urbanist philosophy seems to have largely been embraced by the current generation of city planners. Where do you think her ideas have had the greatest physical impact here in New York? One way to observe how her ideas are having the greatest impact, and there are many examples to be sure, are in projects such as Majora Carter's efforts with Sustainable South Bronx , and Alexie Torres-Flemming's work with Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. One might even make the case that the High Line project is an outgrowth of her sensibilities.

Consider the reclamation of these abandoned, neglected places and the new life they have, the way these places have learned to become something new. Jacobs ideas have catalyzed ways of thinking about preservation, about integrated uses that even manifest themselves in such things as local manufacturers capturing downstream waste for new materials, such as Ice Stone in Brooklyn. The integrated way she viewed cities, economies, ecologies and people encourages creative responses to complex problems.

In fact, her ideas seem so dominant that only very rich or foolhardy developers would try to get a Robert Moses scale project done in the city now. Do you think we've lost anything because of that, like the ability to design and build large, necessary projects? Books like The Battle for Gotham by Roberta Brandes-Gratz and Tony Flint's Wrestling With Moses have addressed these questions in ways that are stirring public debate about this once again. Large scale projects such as transit infrastructure aside, what we see today are developers who like to fake authenticity at a large scale, who appropriate front porches or mixed-use development as though these ingredients will salvage bad ideas. The ability to design and build large scale projects such as Atlantic Yards has not been stopped, and as as result the people of Brooklyn will have do endure still-unknown consequences of these poor choices.

If Jane Jacobs was alive today, what issues do you think she'd be working on? What fights would she be fighting? We know from conversations we had with her that she was very concerned about how we can support the the businesses of immigrant communities long-term, making sure that their efforts to support themselves did not ultimately lead to the gentrification of their neighborhoods and force them out. This was happening in Toronto and we know it is occurring elsewhere, so this was an issue of concern that she would have continued to work on with us.

As for fighting, it is easy to imagine her raising hell about the fate of Atlantic Yards for many reasons, and about wholesale proposals for what she referred to as cataclysmic changes in any community, especially places that suffer like New Orleans.


Illustration by Robert Cowan

Posted by eric at 11:14 AM

April 3, 2010

The Future of Fourth Avenue, Atlantic Yards traffic, and the lessons of top-down planning

Atlantic Yards Report

I only attended part of last month's The Future of Fourth Avenue Forum sponsored by the Park Slope Civic Council (PSCC), so I missed the tangential discussion of Atlantic Yards.

In the PSCC's Civic News, Ezra Goldstein reports:

[The Department of City Planning's Purnima] Kapur came under mild fire later in the forum, when several audience members asked why the city had not mandated storefronts as part of 4th Avenue’s upzoning. Kapur responded that the city had offered incentives encouraging storefronts instead of blank walls or worse—the street level garage vents at the Crest, at the corner of 2nd Street, have become the poster child for callous development—but that it was not normally city policy to make such demands of builders. Shouts of “Why not?” could be heard from several places around the crowded room.

In answer to that question, 39th District City Council Member Brad Lander, who spoke briefly at the end of the forum, pointed out that the way things have been done in the past is not necessarily the way they need to be done in the future. Policy can be changed, he said.

He cautioned, however, “It is easy to come up with good ideas, but harder to organize and build a broad base of support.” If people take that next step, he said, “I would love to work with an active community group on the future of 4th Avenue.”

Lander was echoing a sentiment that pervaded the forum: not only that changing 4th Avenue will require getting organized from the ground up, but that it’s better to do things that way. That sentiment extended very much to the Atlantic Yards project, whose impending presence at 4th Avenue’s northern terminus came up in several questions from the audience.

Atlantic Yards is widely seen as a throwback to the top-down planning of 50 years ago and as the antithesis to the kind of community-based planning espoused at the forum. Lander and [Community Board 6 District Manager] Hammerman both argued, however, that if the battle against the project is indeed lost, there is still much that a well-organized community can do to mitigate its worst effects. Atlantic Yards, for example, would be an impetus for even more traffic along 4th Avenue, increasing the difficulty of its transformation from thruway to livable street.

“The key,” said Hammerman, “is to make sure that we are a strong community that can stand together.”

It won’t be easy getting organized, getting political, building a community. After Atlantic Yards, it won’t be easy convincing some people that it’s worth the effort, that the grassroots stand a chance against the powerful and connected. But there was inspiration in the air at the forum on the future of 4th Avenue, and a definite sense that an important step had been taken toward the transformation of our neighborhood’s troubled roadway into something worthy of our love.


Posted by steve at 9:39 AM

March 24, 2010

Vanderbilt Avenue: Prospect Heights' destination for foodies and booze hounds

NY Post
by Carrie Seim


With a knack for transforming barnwood into bar tops — and Manhattanites into hipsters — Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn is blossoming into New York’s new star strip.

“It’s the big kids’ Park Slope,” explains Weather Up bartender Gabe Harrelson. “Less strollers, more bars.”

Indeed, at least eight new bars and restaurants have popped up on the Brooklyn boulevard in the last two years alone.

Wait, don't they know the area's blighted? Vanderbilt Avenue is the eastern border of the Atlantic Yards footprint.

“It’s starting to gel in a very exciting way,” says Ellen Fishman, who’s lived in Prospect Heights for a dozen years and co-owns longtime Vanderbilt restaurants Aliseo Osteria and Amorina with her husband, Albano Ballerini.

“It’s urban, obviously, and yet it’s so amazingly small-town at the same time,” she says of the ’hood. “It’s like the Village of 30 years ago."


NoLandGrab: And now, close your eyes and imagine if, 29 years ago, someone had dropped a basketball arena into Washington Square Park. Got the picture?

Posted by eric at 10:49 PM

March 5, 2010

Whither parking maximums for large developments near transit? DCP is moving slowly to implement some obvious recommendations

Atlantic Yards Report

Noah Kazis of Streetsblog has written an important three-part series on the reshaping of New York City and its consequences for sustainability and livable streets.

And while Atlantic Yards is not mentioned, the failures in the planning for this megaproject--some 3600 spaces--fit right into the critique.

There would 1044 spaces for indefinite interim surface parking, plus (ultimately) the 2570 underground spaces intended for the project's residential component and an additional 1100 underground spaces for the arena that would replace the surface parking.
In Part 2, The Next New York: How the Planning Department Sabotages Sustainability, Kazis wrote:

Density, however, is only one piece of the planning process. Amanda Burden's planning department has laid the foundation for transit-oriented growth, but so far failed to create conditions where walkable development can flourish.

Across the city, mandatory parking minimums are holding New York back from true transit-oriented development. Additionally, the largest development projects in the city tend to sacrifice good planning in order to satisfy demands from developers with little interest in creating walkable places. Even as the Department of City Planning takes steps toward good urbanist principles in its rezonings, planners are sabotaging that very effort.

The department's parking policy is one major impediment. By requiring most new residential developments to include a minimum number of parking spaces per unit, the department is artificially inflating the supply of parking, inducing more traffic and subsidizing car ownership.

While Atlantic Yards is not mentioned--indeed, it's not a city rezoning but an override of zoning--it fits right into the critique.


Posted by lumi at 6:00 AM

Zukin and Lopate discuss Atlantic Yards: scale, process, and superblocks

Atlantic Yards Report

Sociologist Sharon Zukin, author of Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, was a guest yesterday on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show and, sure enough, Atlantic Yards came up for some semi-contentious discussion. The action went from about 5:40 to 9:00.

The discussion went a little afield--was the site really one Robert Moses had in mind or just the area?--but touched on some of the hot-button issues.

Zukin identified two problems--the scale and the process--but provoked her host by asserting AY would be a "giant attraction on top of a relatively small set of subway platforms."

Lopate pointed out that it was, after all, to be located near Brooklyn's major transit hub. (Then again, the capacity wasn't increased.)

Zukin pointed out that, if we were better at urban planning, we'd create transportation and infrastructure before such things as an arena and housing. (She returned to the issue of infrastructure first later in the program, at about 33:10.)


Posted by lumi at 5:48 AM

February 22, 2010

Nonfiction Book Reviews: 2/22/2010

Publishers Weekly

The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs Roberta Brandes Gratz. Nation, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-56858-438-6

The mid-20th-century showdown between New York City planning czar Moses and legendary community urbanist Jacobs reverberates down the decades in this meandering polemic. A journalist and member of New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission, Gratz (The Living City) views 50 years of economic and real estate development as a duel between the legacies of Moses, whose pharaonic highway and urban renewal projects obliterated neighborhoods, and Jacobs, who extolled urban diversity and disorderly mixed uses, hated cars, and championed organic, human-scale development. Through this lens, Gratz rehashes Jacobs's defeat of Moses's Manhattan expressway schemes, examines New York's (anti-)industrial policies and historical preservation laws, and attacks what she sees as latter-day boondoggles like Brooklyn's proposed mammoth Atlantic Yards development and Columbia University's expansion.


Posted by eric at 11:37 AM

January 28, 2010

Did New York City Planning Officials Sidestep Looking at the Bigger Atlantic Yards Picture?

Noticing New York

Forest City Ratner owns air rights that would allow it to build three high-rise buildings atop its Atlantic Center mall, which was constructed in such a fashion as to support the additional structures.

NNY wonders if City Planning had taken those extra buildings into account in its "review" of the Atlantic Yards project.

Given all this focus on whether the mega-project was too large, combined with the fact that Ms. Burden and her city planning officials took credit for downsizing it when they actually didn’t, we wondered whether City Planning’s review of the mega-project looked at it in terms of its inescapably larger proposed size, 19 new towers rather than 16. We think they should have. Instead, the evidence is that City Planning again played along with the effort to depict Forest City Ratner’s overall plans as being for just 16 new towers.

Why is it important whether the City Planning Commission or the City Planning Department dealt with the larger project as a whole rather than just participating in the manipulation of public perceptions about the project size? Because that is what city planning is supposedly about, looking at how planned city developments operate as a whole, integrating with the environment around them. The focus of City Planning officials is not supposed to be minimizing reviews and coordinating with the developers’ PR.


Posted by eric at 11:19 AM

January 25, 2010

More details on the arena block, thanks to a new schematic, with building envelopes

Atlantic Yards Report

So, what happened to Frank Gehry's plan for Atlantic Yards?

Well, it's been tweaked, and likely will be tweaked even more, as a slightly more detailed design of the arena block--though not the arena--has emerged.

Well, among the voluminous documents that were part of the Atlantic Yards master closing, first made available today, are schematics (below; click to enlarge) of the arena block produced by Stantec Consulting. It includes modified building envelopes and a parking ramp.


Posted by eric at 9:02 PM

January 13, 2010

2010 Atlantic Yards - permanent street closures

Tracy Collins, via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Tracy Collins has posted some photos of Brooklyn's most endangered streets, which Bruce Ratner and the State of New York are fixin' to close any day now. Click the image to play a slide show.


Posted by eric at 10:56 AM

January 7, 2010

Brooklyn BackBroadside Double Dose

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Dennis Holt

New Atlantic Avenue LIRR/Subway Entrance Fits the New Brooklyn

The decision by the MTA to finally bring the complex into the new century was not made in isolation. As has frequently happened in recent Brooklyn history, Bruce Ratner influenced matters. After the Atlantic Center was built, he made plans to build what we now call the Atlantic Terminal Mall. Then, after 9/11, he decided to build a new office building for a displaced company.

The patriotic Bruce also saw an opportunity to get his hands on a pile of federal subsidies.

And then came the master plan for Atlantic Yards across Atlantic Avenue, and independent of Ratner, the concept of a new cultural center, in and around BAM.

One did not have to have a degree in urban planning to realize that a lot more people would be coming that way, everything would be new, and it would make no sense for people to get off at a station that looked like a dump.

Moreover, Ratner, with the MTA’s hearty endorsement, planned to link the station underground with the new sports arena, and the MTA concluded it was time to get cracking. While they were at it, someone decided, why not build a whole new entrance to go along with all the other jazzy stuff coming to the neighborhood?

Only problem is, the ESDC says it won't be "feasible" for LIRR passengers to get from the train to the arena underground.

New Talent to Match Old In City Government Posts

These are [Bloomberg's] visions for the city in the decades to come — big goals supported by big development projects.

Atlantic Yards and the West Side Rail Yards will not be finished in four years, but should be far enough along to assure completion. And Bloomberg will not be content to coast along — he will want to see his Coney Island plan in movement.

Actually, it's very likely that only the arena, and maybe one of Atlantic Yards' planned 16 buildings, will be finished by the time Bloomberg leaves office (assuming he doesn't try to buy a fourth term). But Prospect Heights will have acres of surface parking lots as his monument.

Posted by eric at 4:42 PM

January 3, 2010

The Big Apple’s Big Problem

By Joel Kotkin

This article takes the beginning of Mayor Bloomberg's third term to suggest a new direction for New York City. Perhaps NoLandGrab readers will not be surprised that the overly-dense and heavily-subsidized Atlantic Yards project is not the way to go towards developing family-friendly neighborhoods.

Nurturing these neighborhoods will require a distinct shift in public policy. During the Bloomberg years the big subsidies have gone to luxury condo megadevelopments, sports stadiums, or huge office complexes. Consider the 22-acre Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn, which will include luxury housing and a new arena for the NBA's Nets; one recent report by the city's Independent Budget Office put the total subsidies provided by the city, New York state, and the transit authority at $726 million and estimated the project will hurt, not help, the city's economy over time.

Click on the link to read how the city might be turned around.


Posted by steve at 5:16 PM

December 30, 2009

During a short walk from Fort Greene to Prospect Heights, the contrasts and contradictions of Brooklyn

Atlantic Yards Report

Like an Atlantic Yards-centric version of David Hartman and Barry Lewis, Norman Oder takes a walk through the neighborhoods that will bear the brunt of Bruce Ratner's megaproject.

It was just a short walk, less than a third of a mile. But Brooklyn's contrasts and contradictions were manifest during a walk I took on November 24, a few hours after we learned that the state Court of Appeals had green-lighted the state's use of eminent domain, justified in part by removing "blight" in Prospect Heights, to build the Atlantic Yards project.

There, at the corner of Fulton Street and South Portland Avenue, a major shopping corridor in the gentrified section of Fort Greene, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz hosted a press conference outside the new Greenlight Bookstore, a most-local independent bookstore started with the help of a prize in a small business plan contest sponsored by the Brooklyn Public Library.

The new novel by Brooklyn author Jonathan Lethem, a member of the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board and noted critic of the Atlantic Yards plan, was in the window.

Markowitz and other were boasting "Shop Brooklyn" buttons, announcing a seasonal initiative. Markowitz's press people--the only ones looking wary at the cheery event--had sent out a notice that Markowitz would address the Atlantic Yards eminent domain decision at the event, but first there was some promotion to do, and Markowitz managed his usual enthusiasm.

After ten minutes of boosterish speeches by Markowitz and Wellington Sharpe of the Fulton Area Business Alliance, however, I couldn't stick around.

There was a Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn press conference just a few blocks away, a straight shot down South Portland Avenue, then across broad Atlantic Avenue, past the Vanderbilt Yard and then buildings within the Atlantic Yards footprint that, as of that day, were more likely than ever to be demolished.


Posted by eric at 7:57 AM

December 22, 2009

Atlantic Yards project deemed unnecessary... in 1985

Queens Crap

There's a historical pattern in this state of the government going after private property multiple times using the threat of eminent domain, until it's finally developed by one of their preferred parties. And each and every time, there are developers salivating over the prospect of being handed cheap land without having to go through the time, cost and effort of acquiring it themselves. Take the Atlantic Yards project, for example which actually was resurrected in order to enrich then-Governor Pataki's college roommate, Bruce Ratner.

The Urban Development Corporation, now known as the Empire State Development Corporation, was looking to site a sports arena in or near NYC way back in 1985. Sites evaluated included Atlantic Terminal, Flushing Meadows (including Willets Point), Coney Island, Midtown near Madison Square Garden, Sunnyside Yards, Yonkers Raceway and Co-Op City.

Atlantic Terminal was eventually ruled out because it would compete with existing venues. So we're wondering why there has been a new need identified for that location when there are more large venues available now than in 1985.

The proposed project also has a much smaller footprint now, calling into question whether or not it will pay off. Although I suppose that doesn't really matter to Ratner since we taxpayers will be left footing the bill whether it fails or not.

Click through to see the supporting documents for this history lesson.


Posted by steve at 6:31 AM

December 6, 2009

Yassky's waterfront lesson: make sure neighborhood commitments in development plans are done up front

Atlantic Yards Report

From an 11/23/09 New York Observer article headlined Yassky's Bargain: A Departing Councilman in Search of a Quo for His Quid, concerning "the parks the city promised Yassky in exchange for a sweeping 2005 rezoning of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront."

The Observer reports:

There wasn't much else to see and as we got back into the minivan, I asked Yassky about making deals with the city.

"Certainly one lesson," he said. "One lesson of that is: whatever neighborhood improvements are supposed to go with a big development plan should be done up front--should be done before it's passed. The commitment should be made enforceable in some way. And if not, then don't bank on it."


Of course, the same questions have long been raised about the promised "publicly accessible open space" in the Atlantic Yards project.

And we know that all of it--except for interim open space occuping land promised for towers--wouldn't come until the distant (and perhaps never) Phase 2 of the project.

By contrast, the open space came first with Battery Park City. That lesson has been long learned. It just hasn't been followed.


Posted by steve at 8:31 AM

November 30, 2009

The atrocity that is Empire State Plaza


Is it any wonder that politicians and judges in Albany just don't get it? Check this out:

You're walking in a neighborhood of 19th century townhouses...

... and you run smack into this:

New York spent $2 billion to demolish 98 acres of 19th century buildings, displacing 9,000 human beings, in order to build a sickeningly ugly collection of government buildings. Is there a worse architectural crime in the history of the world? I'm sure there must be, but...

Commenter From Inwood cites Atlantic Yards in the following:

Michael Hasenstab said at 8:59...

Governments do the sorts of horrible things to neighborhoods that they would never allow a private developer to do.

Alas, not so when the private developer is a friend & contributor.


Posted by eric at 10:05 AM

November 19, 2009

In Third Term, Bloomberg Must Align All Agencies With PlaNYC

by Ron Shiffman

Co-founder of the Pratt Center for Community Development, professor at the Pratt Institute's Graduate Center for Planning, former City Planning Commissioner and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn Executive Board member Ron Shiffman critiques the failures of the Bloomberg administration — and lays out a road map for how it can make good. One key aspect of that — scrapping Atlantic Yards for the UNITY Plan.

When it comes to sustainable development, the mayor's record is mixed at best. Many of his agencies -- such as the Department of Design and Construction with David Burney at its helm, the Parks Department under the able direction of Adrian Benepe, and the Department of Transportation under the energetic and farsighted leadership of Janette Sadik-Khan -- have done a fabulous job promoting and implementing the goals of PlaNYC.

Unfortunately, creativity, innovation and commitment to the principles of sustainability stop with these few agencies. Other public servants charged with planning for the future of the city have abdicated that responsibility. The Department of City Planning, despite some exemplary work on open space design and enhancing opportunities for world-class architecture, has ignored planning for the New York City of 2030. Instead, it has focused on rezoning the city as if we still lived in the 1960s, using the language and planning concepts of that discredited era rather than preparing to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Together with private developers, the city's Economic Development Corporation and other quasi-government entities, the planning department has embraced outmoded redevelopment plans for Willets Point in Queens, Hudson Yards on the far West Side, Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, and Columbia University's expansion into Manhattanville without any substantive regard to the principles and goals of PlaNYC.

These large-scale development plans fundamentally ignore the issue of sustainability. And they cast the form of the city in concrete for a century or more.


Posted by eric at 5:45 PM

November 18, 2009

Book on mega-projects offers more reasons for skepticism of Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder applies an Atlantic Yards perspective to his latest book report:

I wrote yesterday how the 2003 book Mega-Projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment, authored by Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff, implicitly criticized Atlantic Yards in advising that overrides of local decision making are "very rarely justified" for sports facilities, since they don't serve "urgent regional needs."

There's much more in the book to generate skepticism about Atlantic Yards, as I describe below, including how project proponents have subtly shifted costs to the public sector; why the AY footprint poses a tighter fit than nearly all other sports facility siting efforts; and how mega-projects invariably involve cost escalation.


Posted by lumi at 6:01 AM

November 17, 2009

Jane Jacobs Report Card: #28, 29, 30 & 31

Noticing New York

Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards overdevelopment is scoring abysmally on the Jane Jacobs report card. Today's installments examine the unintended consequences of directing massive public subsidies to a single megaproject.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #28: Observes the Goal of Creating Political Access (Inc. Goal of Countering Public Money Expenditures)? NO

Jane Jacobs was concerned with cities as working organisms. As one part of this concern, she wrote about consciously creating communities within cities that will have political access and effective influence to represent the interests of neighborhoods. Rather than respecting this as a goal, Atlantic Yards has progressed in the opposite fashion, stripping communities of their say-so about the project. When Community Board 6 voted 35-4 to disapprove of the project as proposed in the July 18, 2006 General Project Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement “because it will cause irreparable damage to the quality of life in the borough of Brooklyn,” the Brooklyn Borough President who stands apart in supporting Atlantic Yards removed members from that board on a wholesale basis. Jane Jacobs was also critical of the way that expenditures of public money were also sometimes used as a distracting sort of candy to try and nullify the political rights of voters.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #29: Using Public Participation in Shaping Cities? NO

Jane Jacobs viewed the people who live in city neighborhoods has having the most important (empirically derived) first hand expertise about their neighborhoods. She therefore believed that getting their input is a supremely critical aspect of the planning process. By comparison, she discounts the value that “experts” have to offer in the process. Normally, planning for big developments involves the public in the planning through the City’s ULURP process. In the case of Atlantic Yards, the process of involving the public through ULURP was sidestepped using a mechanism that people probably never expected would be used to sidestep projects of this magnitude after the City’s Charter was amended to create the ULURP process.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #30: Avoidance of Cataclysmic Money? NO

Part of Jane Jacobs genius was to point out that money could be destructive when it floods in faster than it can be constructively used. Even if good is “intended” by it, it can be too much of a good thing. She calls this “cataclysmic money” and identifies more than one form of it, but one of its most important forms, especially these days and in the case of Atlantic Yards, is public funding and subsidy. Even though or despite the fact that the Atlantic Yards area was, through natural economic processes, attracting substantial economic capital and creating million dollar co-ops and condos, Atlantic Yards is a supreme example of something with so many bad economic equations it would never happen except for public subsidy. That subsidy is overriding private enterprise in a huge way that ought to be offensive to conservative thinkers and liberal alike.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #31: Making Good Use of Gradual Money? NO

Jane Jacobs was supremely conscious of the good that money well and properly spent could create and was not, per se, against subsidies. However, she saw the most valuable form of money as gradual money spent slowly for gradual changes, building on and supplementing what exists. That money could come in through public spending and subsidy. Jacobs was also aware that in situations like Atlantic Yards where there is massive misdirection of public funds and subsidy into cataclysmic spending, each dollar the public spends cataclysmically creating destruction also represents a dollar that could, instead, have been spent gradually for public good. So, the misdirection of funds is, at least, a double loss to the public.

Posted by lumi at 11:15 AM

How to prioritize megaprojects? Avoid state intervention on behalf of local sports facilities

Atlantic Yards Report

At a panel on megaprojects November 7, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer suggested a need to prioritize, given that not all projects could go forward. And he also pointed out that many projects have regional importance.

No one tried to prioritize, but I found some guidance--implicitly critical of Atlantic Yards--in the 2003 book Mega-Projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment, authored by Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff.

In a nutshell: the use of a state zoning override, the bypassing of any effective input from any legislative body and the fact that the stated goals of Atlantic Yards could have been achieved by other, simpler means, would probably lead analysts to conclude that Bruce Ratner's megaproject doesn't belong on the priority list of regional projects.


Posted by lumi at 6:00 AM

November 12, 2009

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Cards, Numbers 24-27

Noticing New York

After posting umpteen-thousand words on Tuesday on 300 years of the history of judicial independence, Michael D.D. White somehow managed to run off four more installments of his "Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card" series.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #24: Avoidance of “Border Vacuums?” NO

Jane Jacobs pinpointed and described a phenomena that is readily possible to observe many places in almost any city- What she called “border vacuums.” She observed how borders that interrupted the flow of the city and city streets tended to create areas of deadness surrounding them. Among other things, she observed that projects built like Atlantic Yards on superblocks visually separating themselves from the city created these borders and associated vacuums notwithstanding that they might offer paths and promenades for pedestrian travel.

Some borders damp down use by making travel across them a one-away affair. Housing projects are an example of this, the project people cross back and forth across the border (usually, in any appreciable numbers, at only one side of the project or at most two sides). The adjoining people, for the most part, stay strictly over on their side of the border and treat the line as a dead end of use.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #25: Convert Borders to Seams? NO

Jane Jacobs suggested that borders could be converted to “seams” and would not have to function as borders if along their edges there were frequent invitations that would bring users across the border. Atlantic Yards does not seem to have any lively cleverness in its design that would accomplish this though some corrections might one day get fitted in to correct some of it problems. Corrections will be more difficult in some areas like where the arena presents large blank walls more than a block long. Further, as the megadevelopment will take decades, perhaps three to four, there will be decades where with acres of parking lots and a still open cut for the rail yards little or no correction will be possible.

(Above: The seven-story tall back of the proposed arena which, straddling a closed-off street, will be nearly two blocks wide. It is likely to face acres of parking lots and open rail yards for decades.)

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #26: Allowing People to Move up the Ladder Through “Unslumming”? NO

Jane Jacobs devoted a chapter of her book to the subject of the way in which areas of cities thought of as “slums” went through natural processes to become anything but. She called the process “unslumming” but these days it might be considered much the same thing as gentrification depending on the income levels that come to prevail in an improving area. In describing this kind of improvement she countered the wisdom or dogma of the day that slums needed to torn down to be improved and that residents needed to be removed and relocated in large scale reshufflings of the population.

Atlantic Yards involves the tearing down of blocks and reshuffling of people living on them in much the same fashion as the old-style urban renewal projects of the days of yore. In much the same way, justification for the tear down and reshuffling is being offered by describing as `unhealthy’ areas that don’t believe themselves to be such and are quite busy improving themselves through natural processes.

Jane Jacobs, in realizing that the neighborhoods “unslummed” naturally with many of the same families remaining in place as the neighborhood improved realized that the poor were not just being unproductively evicted from a poor neighborhood, they were being evicted from a neighborhood that was likely a potentially wealthier improved neighborhood. In other words the less advantaged in society are being knocked off an ascending ladder.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #27: Use of Empiricism and Curiosity to Determine and Work with Actual Facts and Reality? NO

Jane Jacobs was remarkable for being able to see and understand what “experts”who had proceeded her overlooked or failed to understand and she did it by rigorously going out to observe what was actually out in the world to be observed rather than seeing what she expected, wanted to or thought she should see. If the Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact Statement is representative of what the sponsors of Atlantic Yards see, or don’t, the evidence is that they are not seeing the world of this Brooklyn site for what it is but for what they hope would justify their proposed actions. Likewise, if you go by the inaccurate descriptions of the proposed project and area in the materials the Ratner organization promulgated to promote the project.

Posted by eric at 1:00 PM

November 9, 2009

At panel on stalled megaprojects, AY draws implicit skepticism and indirect support (but only if there were infrastructure investment)

Atlantic Yards Report

So, is Atlantic Yards the right kind of megaproject? AY came up only glancingly during a panel on Saturday during the Institute for Urban Design's conference Arrested Development: Do Megaprojects Have a Future?, but panelists' comments, in general, offered much implicit skepticism--though some indirect support--for Brooklyn's most controversial project.

Notably, they portrayed megaprojects as mainly (but not exclusively) public infrastructure projects, such as transportation, not sports facilities.

And while one panelist, former developer Vishaan Chakrabarti, made a case for "extreme density" as a way to save energy in a steadily urbanizing world, he said such projects had to include "very intense" infrastructure investments in mass transit, parks, and schools.

Atlantic Yards, while it's supposed to include an upgraded Long Island Rail Road yard, would have no subway improvements other than a new entrance. There'd be space for as school but the new open space would be long-delayed--as opposed to beforehand, as with Battery Park City--and mostly serve the new residents rather than "Brooklyn," as developer Forest City Ratner has promised.


Posted by eric at 10:20 AM

November 4, 2009

Review & Comment: For a Better-Looking City

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle suggests that bloggers only post around 40 words to circumvent any copyright issues.

Here are 40 words mentioning "Atlantic Yards" from Henrik Krogius's column exploring the idea of a Public Design Commission:

Today, here in Brooklyn, we are still embroiled in controversy over Atlantic Yards, although its original architect whose unconventional designs spurred at least part of the conflict has been eased out. Frank Gehry enjoys a world reputation somewhat like that...


Posted by lumi at 7:01 PM

November 1, 2009

One City, One Future: strategies for housing, jobs, and equitable growth (that Thompson has mostly ignored)

Atlantic Yards Report

The proposed Atlantic Yards project is certainly an example of poor planning. The project has morphed from a mix of office towers and housing to primarily a market-rate housing project plus the "who asked for this?!" arena. Instead of trying to stand on its head trying to please a developer, wouldn't it be better if there were a set of guidelines that government could follow to assure sound development?

The publication, "One City/One Future" (a collaboration between National Employment Law Project, New York Jobs with Justice and the Pratt Center for Community Development) shows how the city can do a better job of meeting citizens' needs and allocating precious resources.

Norman Oder digests this publication that espouses these principles:

Raise the Standards

Government should set clear standards for economic activity in New York City, especially activity that benefits from public spending or actions. Meeting these standards -- whether they concern the quality of jobs created or the environmental sustainability of new buildings -- must be a prerequisite for anyone doing business with the city.

Invest for Shared Growth

The city and state currently spend billions keeping New York's economy humming. These investments in housing, transportation, and employment need to be designed and managed with the explicit objective of improving opportunity and strengthening neighborhoods.

Reform the Process

Planning and development must take place in an open and democratic environment, in which communities and the city work as partners, not adversaries, with the objective of building a prosperous city on the strength of livable neighborhoods.

Read through Oder's take on "One City/One Future" and you'll see that it could be possible to have a more equitable system of development for New York.


Posted by steve at 8:48 AM

October 19, 2009

Thompson’s Advocated Multiple Parcels (a la Battery Park City) vs. Single-Developer Mega-monopolies Should Boost Developers’ Bids

Noticing New York

Michael D.D. White explains the difference between just-in-time manufacturing and highly subsidized megadevelopments:

There is one thing in the Observer Article that we think is misleading:

“Giving a big site to a single developer all at once—such as the 22-acre, $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project—could bring a higher bid given, among other reasons, that the developer would benefit from economies of scale and increased values as it fills out the site.”- -

- - We think that it needs to be understood that 'giving a big site to a single developer all at once—such as the 22-acre, $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project'—could bring a MUCH LOWER bid.

No doubt everyone has heard the expressions “You didn’t pay retail for that, did you?” and “I can get it for you wholesale.” Suffice it to say, retailing sales RAISES the prices a seller can charge. Furthermore, dividing huge sites into multiple parcels increases the number of capable bidders in the game and that raises the price the government will receive. Another benefit is that it mitigates risk for the government, allowing for more flexible Plan Bs (and Cs). As Atlantic Yards Report notes (and suggests may have been understood when the Observer article was authored), the lack of alternative plans can lead to costly additional concessions later on. Or the lack of alternatives can be used as political excuses to wind with a “deal on terms more favorable to the developer.”


Posted by lumi at 6:48 AM

Two profiles of Amanda Burden make and miss the same points about City Planning (and Atlantic Yards)

Atlantic Yards Report

Two profiles in the past week of City Planning Commission (CPC) Chairwoman Amanda Burden take the same tack: she's led rezonings and, to her credit and (anonymously-sourced) discredit, has become a micromanager on design issues. Meanwhile, Mayor Mike Bloomberg has left her significant latitude.

Those themes can't be disputed, but both articles miss a larger issue and a smaller one. They fail to note how the CPC has become diminished, unable to truly plan, and they fail to explain how Burden has been (mostly) a loyal foot soldier for Mayor Mike Bloomberg's Atlantic Yards plan.


Posted by lumi at 6:41 AM

October 5, 2009

Autumn in New York

He knew all the words….

The High Line succeeds where other projects fail (spectacularly).

I emerged in the West Village, at 12th Street and 7th Avenue. I walked west and when I got near to Gansevoort Street I realized how close I was to the entrance to the High Line, our new elevated park that I hadn’t yet been to see. So I ascended to the old abandoned railway tracks and experienced this unlikely success story for the first time. The park is wonderful. It’s beautifully designed with a crazy combination of nods to the site’s industrial past, the wildlife that overtook the tracks when it fell into disuse, and the slick urban hipness of the (overly) revitalized Meat Packing District. Because the weather was beautiful and because it was near sunset, I assumed the park would be packed with people. But it wasn’t. There were plenty of people there, but it felt very relaxed and very much like a park. In a few places where cafe tables or chaise lounges appeared, it was easy to forget you were on an elevated train track at all — it simply felt like a very peaceful urban park. It’s hard to believe this project came through with such perfection, especially given the fact that when it was first proposed then-Mayor Giulinani played Grinch by signing demolition orders for the tracks, and then of course he was replaced by Mayor Bloomberg who’s overseen one great failure of city development after another. That this project didn’t turn into another botched Coney Island or Atlantic Yards is nothing short of a miracle.


Posted by eric at 10:11 AM

September 16, 2009

Kingsborough Conference To Focus on Development

Planners, Academics Head for ‘Dreamland’

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Kingsborough Community College plans to host a conference titled “Dreamland Pavilion: Brooklyn and Development” on Oct. 2-3.

The multidisciplinary conference will explore the past, present and future of development in Brooklyn. Kevin Powell, a Brooklyn-based activist and author who ran for Congress unsuccessfully against Rep. Ed Towns, will deliver the keynote address. Powell has written for publications such as Esquire, Newsweek, the Washington Post, Essence and Rolling Stone.

The conference brings together more than 50 city planners, academics, journalists, activists and creative artists. Topics will include Atlantic Yards, Coney Island, the politics of gentrification, and the representation of Brooklyn in the media.

Dreamland was the name of one of Coney Island’s original grand amusement parks, which burned in a spectacular fire in 1911.

For more information on the conference, please log onto


Posted by eric at 1:42 PM

September 12, 2009

Architecture Review - Atlantic Yards


Blog author Anarchitect points out that the New York Times' architecture critic, Nicholas Ouroussoff, has a narrow focus that can hinder a greater understanding of the field of architecture as well as the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

New Design for Atlantic Yards Project Restores a Bit of the Old - I am not greatly impressed with the flip-flopping design proposals for the Atlantic Yards site. However, I am also equally unimpressed by NY Times' lopsided critiques. Is NYT into marketing architects or good architecture and urban design? Mr. Ouroussoff sounds concerned and terrified (or Gehryfied?!) while reviewing the revised plans for the project by SHoP Architects....

It is tragic when architectural critics sing praises of architects rather than issues concerning architecture and urban design... There are many unanswered questions about the proposals for this site including absence of a plan - infrastructure planning and who is paying for it along with other costs that the taxpayers are presumed to bear..... In these times of Less rather than more, a critique of Excess is more we look forward to when evaluating large-scale architectural projects, not just iconic branding. Good is difficult to define however, accepted norms for what is considered to be a "high standard" remains indubitably questionable. NYT readers would be better served if Mr Ouroussoff focused more on the larger issues facing the profession of architecture and its responsibility towards shared goals; and writing a critique on architecture of the "sameness" that defines much of contemporary architecture including the work of Gehry's office rather than vilify other architects.


Posted by steve at 5:54 AM

August 26, 2009

Limited parking, street closures, and rooftop seats: why watching the Cubs in Wrigleyville contrasts with the plans for the Nets and AY (+ video)

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes a field trip to Wrigley Field to explore the comparisons made to the downtown ballpark in the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The [Empire State Development Corporation] says Wrigley fits into its neighborhood.

However, there are some significant contrasts between Wrigley and the proposed Atlantic Yards arena, as I learned when I visited Chicago's Wrigley Field in July during an afternoon baseball game and took photos and a video (below).

The contrasts and insights:

  • Living or visiting across the street is a boon because you can watch games
  • There's very little parking, even though the stadium has more than twice the projected capacity of the arena and, while located on a transit line, is not at a transit hub
  • Residential permit parking has been instituted to protect residents
  • There's a vigorous private market in which residents rent their own parking spaces
  • Two streets are closed during games
  • A line of buses waits for the crowds


Posted by lumi at 5:39 AM

August 7, 2009

Catching up with Coney Island: how CBA-like trade-offs may have sacrificed the amusement area

Atlantic Yards Report

Last week, the City Council voted to approve the rezoning of Coney Island, shrinking the amusement district. What role did the Community Benefits Agreement play in giving cover to the politicians who voted for the Mayor's plan, and are there any similarities to Atlantic Yards?

[C]ritics say the rezoning passed 44-2 last week by the City Council won't save Coney Island so much as shrink the amusement area, allow the demolition of historic buildings, and, crucially, permit hotel towers south of Surf Avenue, blocking views of the beach and amusement area.

The enormous natural advantages of Coney--the beach and the sky--are a civic asset. If there are to be many new high-rises in Coney--and that's fine--there's ample room north and west of the central amusement area....

Similarly, zoning for amusements is a scarce commodity--it allows light and noise--and there's a strong argument for maintaining a larger, rather than smaller, amusement area.

But the City Council agreed, in part because of a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)-like compromise that has little or nothing to do the amusement area.

Not dissimilarly, some of the promises in the Atlantic Yards CBA have nothing to do with the fundamental question: should Forest City Ratner be allowed to built Atlantic Yards at the size it wants and gain the benefits of state override of zoning and exercise eminent domain?


Posted by lumi at 5:12 AM

August 6, 2009

Hills & Gardens
Boerum Hill’s New Voice

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
by Trudy Whitman

The Eagle profiles Howard Kolins, the new president of the Boerum Hill Association.

What differs from past Boerum Hill Association presidents’ tenures and [Sue] Wolfe’s and his, Kolins muses, is that neighbors had been motivated by a single big issue in the past. Now there are multiple big issues — Atlantic Yards and other large development projects, the Brooklyn House of Detention, and park remediation, to name just a few.

“But the collective impulse of the board members . . . is self-determination,” relates Kolins. “We moved here because it is a certain way, and people want to preserve that.”

See Part 2 of this profile next week in which Howard Kolins discusses the big issues (Atlantic Yards, the House of Detention) and the annual events that make Boerum Hill a unique neighborhood (a holiday potluck that attracts 120 neighbors, a plant sale that nets a $6000 profit.)


Posted by eric at 12:28 PM

July 29, 2009

It came from the Blogosphere... (NY Post edition)

News that the Municipal Art Society released a set of revised renderings, because Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner won't, made the rounds in the blogosphere:

Brownstoner, Reality Check Rendering of Yards from MAS

Now that the budget and ambitions of Atlantic Yards have been scaled back and Frank Gehry has been dumped, what are we left with? Since Forest City Ratner has not been forthcoming to date, the Municipal Art Society took a stab at creating a rendering of what may be in store.

NY Times, "City Room," Morning Buzz: Housing & Economy

Renderings of Bruce Ratner’s embattled Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn commissioned by the Municipal Art Society portray how the $4.9 billion project will look now that all the bells and whistles have been stripped from it - most notably the architect Frank Gehry and his expressionist building and arena design. The society says it’s doing what Mr. Ratner and the state won’t — providing the public with renderings to rely on as the Empire State Development Corporation holds public hearings Wednesday and Thursday regarding Ratner’s revised project plan, which was released last month and is scaled down and more costly than the one state officials approved in 2006.

Sports Business News, Facility Notes

In N.Y., Rich Calder reports the Municipal Art Society of N.Y. (MAS) said that it is doing what Nets Owner Bruce Ratner and the state "won't -- providing the public with renderings to rely on as the Empire State Development Corp. holds public hearings Wednesday and Thursday....

* Aerial photo, Jonathan Barkey

Posted by lumi at 5:10 AM

July 15, 2009

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card, cont'd

Blogger Michael D.D. White has been putting Atlantic Yards to the Jane Jacobs test. Thus far, Atlantic Yards isn't getting a passing grade — today's marks pretty much meet expectations:

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #21: Avoidance of Harmful Gigantic Outdoor Advertising? NO

Jane Jacobs was unusually tolerant of what ought to be permitted in an urban environment but goes out of her way to say that except in very unusual situations very large billboards and signage is destructive because they are visually disorganizing to streets, and overly dominating. The Atlantic Yards proposal involves illuminated (changeable and perhaps animated) electronic signage of up to 150 feet,- That is billboards 15 stories tall- and to accomplish putting these signs in the middle of historic brownstone neighborhoods would override local regulations which would normally, in such an area, be stricter than usual to prevent such signage. No sports facility in the city has similarly huge signage.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #22: Avoidance of Enterprises and Uses Harmful Because the Scale Is Wrong? NO

Jane Jacobs pointed out that there were enterprises or uses which she referred to as `exploding’ the street that were not, in themselves wrong, but which were harmful if they were operating at too large a scale, with too much disproportionately large street frontage. The disproportionately large street frontages at Ratner’s Atlantic Centers are examples of such street exploders and bode ill for Atlantic Yards. Security problems at Metrotech have created similar problems at that location which have gone unaddressed. But even if the ground floor space at Atlantic Yards is leased to retail operators that use smaller street frontages in a break from past Ratner practices, the effect of the street being broken up will occur because the buildings in Atlantic Yards are spaced apart so that they will not have continuous uninterrupted streets.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #23: Protection Against Self-Destruction of Diversity of Building Use? NO

Jane Jacobs describes a problem of the too successful city where diversity is lost when supplanted by crowded uses like banks or insurance companies that lack diversity. Though each is economically successful in its own right, Jacobs feels a dull monotony takes over with the crowding.... This has application to Atlantic Yards mainly in that buildings that could have been converted and enlisted for such “staunch” uses, perhaps as schools or libraries, are being torn down instead.

Posted by lumi at 5:24 AM

July 13, 2009

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #s 18, 19 & 20

Noticing New York

Michael D.D. White continues his series asking "what would Jane Jacobs do?" in the case of Atlantic Yards.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #18: Improved Mass Transit Bus Service by Avoidance of One-Way Streets? MAYBE NOT

Jane Jacobs pointed out technical reasons why two-way streets favor and assist the mass transit use of buses. The City’s Department of Mass Transportation has been unable to envision how the city transportation systems will be able to handle the extra loads associated with a project the size of Atlantic Yards. It will be a problem in terms of vehicular transit on the street and also because DOT has reported that the subway lines serving Atlantic Yards are already at maximum capacity and will not be able to be suitably upgraded in the foreseeable future applicable to the project’s construction. Without a good solution available, DOT flailed at the problem by proposing to accommodate Atlantic Yards by turning Brooklyn’s Sixth and Seventh Avenues into one-way streets. (Fifth Avenue is proposed to be partly shut down by the Atlantic Yards project.) If this were done it would be despite the particular technical problems for buses that Jane Jacobs pointed out, notwithstanding that mass transit buses might be the main hope available to deal with the sudden huge population Atlantic Yards would dump into this area of Brooklyn.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #19: Avoidance of Harmful Large and Heavy Trucking Depots? MAYBE NOT?

Jane Jacobs views trucking depots in the wrong areas as adverse to neighborhoods. Atlantic Yards is not proposing that trucking depots will be built within its final design. But there will likely be many years where construction trucks fill the neighborhood.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #20: Avoidance of Harmful Gas Stations? MAYBE YES/MAYBE NO

Jane Jacobs suggested that gas stations in the wrong areas would deaden neighborhoods. Those looking for a positive accomplishment in the Atlantic Yards Development can point out that a gas station will be one of the condemned businesses. On the other hand, the gas station which sits on an island on busy Flatbush Avenue might be in about as good a place as it might ever be in terms of not disturbing an adjoining neighborhood. Arguably, on the other side, when it goes out of business at this location it is possible the demand for an unfilled service may result in a new gas station springing up in a less desirable location.

The Mobil station in question, at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street, has since been demolished by Forest City Ratner.

Posted by eric at 9:16 AM

July 12, 2009

In Architectural Record (February 2007), editor called for "employing other voices"; now what?

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes a look at a mostly ignored article from 2007 that examined the proposed Atlantic Yards project through a mostly architectural viewpoint. After two years, a new look would be a good idea.

This is well over two years late, but I don't think anyone noticed a thoughtful but flawed February 2007 column by Architectural Record editor Robert Ivy, headlined City of Trees and published shortly after the Atlantic Yards project was officially approved but, obviously, well before significant changes were made.

It's worth another look and Atlantic Yards, I think, deserves Ivy's attention again.

Ivy points to the need for development at the crucial intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, cited the need for housing in the city, and pointed out the importance of professional sports in what could be the fourth-largest city in the country. (I don't buy his restatement of the cliche that Brooklyn is "still grieving the loss of the Dodgers in 1957," however.)


However, he acknowledges concern: Soon residents of surrounding property and their sympathizers began to protest the disruption to the urban fabric that the 22-acre master plan proposed. They decried the loss of low-scale housing in the Prospect Heights neighborhood (a gentrifying area), the use of eminent domain by a civic authority to block viable streets, and the variation in scale presented in the proposed project.

It's even more than urban design, scale, and even eminent domain, given factors like superblocks and indefinite interim surface parking. The big issue is process--why else would the Municipal Art Society's Kent Barwick have mused that AY might be "this generation's Penn Station"?

Oder goes on to examine the role of Frank Gehry in the planning and promotion of the project as well as the original concept that Gehry would have been responsible for planning every building for the project.

He concludes by looking at how realistic a compromise solution might be and suggesting a fresh look.

Ivy concludes: New York needs density, and more housing, but not at the expense of alienating urban advocates who decry closed streets, inadequate affordable-housing options, or imperiled existing residences. Their voices must be taken into consideration. Ultimately, Atlantic Yards will comprise its own city within the city. As Gehry himself has proposed, his large commission can be improved by employing other voices to build on the plans he has laid out to date, adding other sensibilities to the architect’s own, layering the new community now in formation with multiple points of view, and enriching the borough and the whole city as a result. (Emphasis added)

This is essentially a "mend it, don't end it" solution, reasonably close to the issues raised by BrooklynSpeaks.


But it doesn't square the circle: if existing residences are to be saved and streets not to be closed, Forest City Ratner's master plan must be significantly altered--and probably couldn't work. It implies a lower density; if so, the developer couldn't fulfill the affordable housing pledge it made.

Moreover, it doesn't deal with the dubious claims of blight. Nor does it deal with the developer's pattern of misleading the public.

It's understandable that Ivy, like other architecture critics, would focus on issues of urban design. But a project this big raises other questions, as well.

Now that it's been two years and counting, he should revisit the issue.


Posted by steve at 8:20 AM

July 11, 2009

This is the Coney Island the Bloomberg Administration Doesn't Want the City to Have

Noticing New York

The focus of this blog entry is the release of images by the Municipal Art Society (MAS) that clearly show the problems with a proposed city plan for redevelopment of Coney Island. Also, MAS's "Atlantic Lots" images are recalled.

Not only are MAS’s images informative but MAS has previously been marvelously prescient in producing urban development image projects. MAS was right on target with its "Atlantic Lots" website. That website, predicting that the Atlantic Yards megaproject (yet another Bloombergian mega-vision project) would become just a generic arena surrounded by parking lots, furnished images that have turned out to be exactly right. Right now, Forest City Ratner, the developer proposed to get a monopoly over a swath of Brooklyn, just wants to build a crude airplane hanger style arena. Notwithstanding, FCR would get a blight-inducing ultra-long-term, low-cost exclusive option on many times the acreage needed for that arena. That extra acreage is where FCR would get to put parking lots for perhaps as long as 30 or 40 years. And the developer has already been busy tearing the neighborhood down.


NoLandGrab: Like Atlantic Yards, the redevelopment of Coney Island has not received nearly the attention it should be getting from mainstream media, so you may not be aware of the plan that will likely destroy Coney Island as an amusement destination. Click on the above link and take a look at this video, Don't Kill Coney! Fix the Plan!: A Friendly PSA from Coney Island's 'Mayor', to come up to speed quickly on this issue.

Posted by steve at 6:52 AM

July 3, 2009

Ratner Makes New Promises; Amanda Burden Close to Edge on Arena Design

After Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner committed not to build ugly, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn wonders:

So, if the renderings of the Barclays Center Hangar were not Bruce Ratner's "intentions for the project" what were they and what are his intentions? And if he still doesn't know what his arena is going to look like (if that is true) how can he claim, with a straight face, that he's breaking ground this fall?


It seems pretty clear that City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden is not pleased with Atlantic Yards at all. So she has a choice to make: let it stumble along and end up with decades-long blight and a big box arena sitting empty most of the time or buck her boss Bloomberg and do the right thing. It's times like these on projects like these that call for whistleblowing.


Posted by lumi at 5:35 AM

June 26, 2009

And from the mailbag

The Brooklyn Paper, Letters

To the editor,

The firing of Frank Gehry and the evolution of Atlantic Yards ought to provide a moment for reflection regarding the role of architecture, hubris, politics, and planning in our city. Will we continue to see another development deal, another architect, another political legacy all intertwined in a misbegotten attempt to control what perhaps should not be controlled?

Let us engage our most talented designers and let us see the alternatives to this mediocre scheme. Let’s insist on the best results for Brooklyn, for New York, for architecture, for urban design and for the people. There is no excuse for less.

James Garrison, DUMBO

link [The first two letters were published previously; scroll down for Mr. Garrison's letter.]

Posted by eric at 11:16 AM

June 25, 2009

Prospect Heights gets historic district; historic boondoggle TBD

Tracy Collins via flickr Atlantic Yards Photo Pool, Atlantic Yards v. Prospect Heights Historic District

Note how the newly approved historic district wraps the southeast section of the Atlantic Yards footprint like a fork. That section until last year contained the preservation-worthy Ward Bakery Building — which was perhaps Prospect Heights' most distinguished building — demolished courtesy of Bruce C. Ratner.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, LPC Votes Unanimously to Designate Prospect Heights Historic District

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Tuesday unanimously approved the designation of the Prospect Heights Historic District.

The 850-building district is the city’s largest since the 2,020-building Upper West Side Historic District was formed in 1990, according to LPC Chair Robert Tierney.

And with its mid-19th century and early 20th century rowhouses and apartment buildings designed in a broad array of architectural styles, it is certainly deserving, he added.

The Municipal Art Society of NYC, MAS Applauds Prospect Heights Historic District Designation

Prospect Heights is rich in historic architecture, with blocks of beautiful Italianate and neo-Grec rowhouses, interspersed with churches, small commercial and apartment buildings. Located just north of Prospect Park, the neighborhood has seen few changes since it was first developed in the late-19th century. Today, it is threatened by the Atlantic Yards project, a proposal by the developer Forest City Ratner to build 16 towers and a sports arena on a 22-acre site adjacent to the neighborhood.

This announcement marks a significant milestone for an innovative civic partnership between the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC). The two groups teamed up in 2006 to advocate for historic district designation.

NoLandGrab: While MAS and PHNDC are to be commended for their efforts, had the two groups been more vociferous in their opposition to Atlantic Yards — both are members of the "mend-it-don't-end-it" BrooklynSpeaks coalition — one has to wonder if the Ward Bakery, too, could have been saved from Bruce Ratner's wrecking ball.

The Brooklyn Paper, City makes ‘history’ in Prospect Heights

Prospect Heights has joined its better-known upscale neighbor Park Slope as Brooklyn’s latest historic district.

On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to turn the 850-building area into a protected historical landmark.

The district stretches from Flatbush Avenue to Washington Avenue and from Eastern Parkway to Atlantic Avenue — up to, but not including, Bruce Ratner’s proposed mega-development, formerly known as Atlantic Yards until this week’s announcement that most of the project had been tabled.

NLG: No, it's still known as Atlantic Yards, and the project has hardly been "tabled." The Brooklyn Paper should try as hard to be accurate as it does to be cute.

AP via, Brooklyn neighborhood gets landmark status

The Prospect Heights district is next to the site where developer Bruce Ratner plans to build a basketball arena and 16 skyscrapers. However, his development will not directly encroach on it.

Posted by eric at 5:01 PM

June 13, 2009

How To Unmake A Frank Gehry Building and a Section of a City

Regional Plan Association
By Alex Marshall

The author of this piece explains how being a fan of Frank Gehry helped him to abandon his principles and endorse the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

Last week, Forest City Ratner announced it was dropping Gehry as the architect of the New York Nets arena that is at the center of the much debated Atlantic Yards, the project that would cover the now open LIRR train yards, and wipe out several of the surrounding blocks. More importantly perhaps for the public, Ratner has asked to be relieved of some of his public obligations. This after having drastically trimmed away at the project and reduced the number and composition of offices and apartments.

I have long opposed the process that created this project, as well as many aspects of the final design, even while ultimately supporting the construction of the project itself, despite all its flaws. I supported it because it got a lot of things right, including the scale of offices, housing and amenities for that location. The project sits right next to the largest collection of subway lines in Brooklyn if not the city. It is probably the most appropriate place in the city to build a lot of something. I even swallowed my dislike of how the project closed existing streets and put in few cross streets, making the project essentially a collection of street-deadening super-blocks.

But it's also true that having a Frank Gehry building sweetened the pot for me. And living just a few blocks from the site, this was not an abstract question.

With Gehry out of the picture, a more pragmatic approach appears.

Should the MTA and the city make some sort of arrangement with Ratner? That depends on whether a new deal can be constructed that can still provide net economic benefits to the city and MTA over the long run. But any renegotiation should also extract a price from Ratner by demanding greater oversight over the future evolution of the project. That would go a long way toward fixing the deeply flawed process whose outcome is playing out exactly as predicted by astute observers like Rob Lane of RPA.


Speaking for myself, I would say the public sector has to act robustly in almost every development project now under way, including Atlantic Yards, the WTC site redevelopment, Hudson Yards and more. The basic model should be the city designs and supervises; the private sector builds. Right now, it's too often the private sector designs, the public sector accommodates.

When will we learn?


NoLandGrab: Will RPA demonstrate what has been learned and reconsider its endorsement of the proposed Atlantic Yards Project as has been suggested by Norman Oder in his Atlantic Yards Report?

Posted by steve at 9:15 AM

May 27, 2009

As with FCR's pictures of open space, the city likes to produce unrealistic park renderings

Atlantic Yards Report

From Tuesday's New York Post:
A Parks official... also said the city has a "bad" habit of commissioning renderings for park projects "it knows it'll never be able to fully fund" just to grab a quick headline "and boost the mayor's popularity."

That sounds a lot like Forest City Ratner commissioning landscape architect Laurie Olin for some renderings of open space not scheduled until Phase 2, for which the State Funding Agreement imposed no timetable.

Remember, according to Empire State Development Corporation CEO Marisa Lago, Atlantic Yards could take "decades." And the open space is all scheduled for Phase 2.


Posted by eric at 10:44 PM

May 4, 2009

Mayor's Office: maybe to new schools if AY is built, no to a new 78th Precinct stationhouse

Atlantic Yards Report

The Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, in budget documents released Friday, revealed a couple of Capital Budget Priorities and Requests related to Atlantic Yards.

In neither case does the city appear willing to commit more resources, stating that it would try to build more schools, should AY be built, with existing funds, and would not try to construct a new 78th Precinct stationhouse, despite the impact of an arena that would be built a block away.


NoLandGrab: The Mayor continues to support Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards scheme, but will not commit to supporting the community in and around the project.

Mayor to Community Boards: drop dead (or, at least, wither away)

Mayor Bloomberg is facing some hard choices, but his top-down community-be-damned approach to rezoning leads one to believe that his decision to cut the already meager budgets of Community Boards wasn't one of them:

...Community Board budgets average around $220,000, and Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s budget proposes that those budgets go down 5%, not up.

Yes, the city budget is under stress, but, as Manhattan CB 7 Chair Helen Rosenthal notes in this March 16 Gotham Gazette commentary, the entire community board budget is some $15 million--essentially a rounding error in a $60 billion budget. (Actually, the budget this year looks like it'll be under $14 million. See p. 55 of this PDF budget document.)

Numerous Community Boards asked for an increase in their budgets, pointing out that they're already stretched to the bone, and the CBs can’t fulfill their mandates in the city charter.

Posted by lumi at 5:27 AM

May 1, 2009

And what if climate change had been part of the EIS? Maybe there wouldn't have been so much parking planned for AY

Atlantic Yards Report

Hmm... what if climate change had been part of the Environmental Impact Statement? The short answer is there would have been even more analysis for developer Bruce Ratner and the Empire State Developerment Corporation to ignore.

However, Atlantic Yards has become the poster project for reckless urban planning, so it's worth ruminating on what-ifs, at least for future projects and environmental reviews:

Last week, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) released a study that "details a suggested framework for analyzing climate change, and enables New York State to evaluate and address the potential climate change impact of different actions in land-use, energy and industrial transportation, and other issues."

And the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has issued draft guidelines for adding analysis to environmental impact statements (EISs).

A dense development like Atlantic Yards, with buildings designed to meet LEED standards, may seem to foster sustainability, but critics like urban planner Tom Angotti remain skeptical, because of what's been left out.

Indeed, should this new policy avenue be followed, the environmental review for large projects like AY would require a closer look at the impact of parking, traffic, and construction on greenhouse gases (GHG).


Posted by lumi at 5:14 AM

April 28, 2009

Development amid Deficits, Building amid Budget Gaps

City Hall News

Lago-CHN.jpg Atlantic Yards excerpts from online selections of the the on-the-record transcript of Empire State Development Corporation President and CEO Marisa Lago at an On/Off the Record breakfast held April 8:

Q: What is the status on Atlantic Yards?
A: Obviously a challenging project. Again, projects conceived in a different time and in a different economy. But, one, now the focus is very much on moving forward with the Nets stadium and with the housing that is on that first block, the first phase of the project. Attenuated timelines, I think, are a reality for private-sector and for public-sector projects; there’s nothing wrong with that. You look at the history of the transformational projects that have occurred in the city—earlier I was discussing with some of the folks here Roosevelt Island, the project that has grown over decades; 42nd Street, a project that has grown over the past 25 years—and the scale of the Atlantic Yards is similar in that it is remaking, re-knitting a portion of the city. So, as I said: [we are] focusing on what can get done now in the current climate, what is finance-able now, and also recognizing that it is a project that is scheduled to grow out over multi-years, decades, not months.

Q: What dates are we looking at for completion, and what does it look like when it’s done?
A: With respect to Atlantic Yards, our focus is on the first phase, on the arena and the attendant community benefits and housing that surround it, and with respect to particular dates, one doesn’t know, I think that it is a folly to say that. But, are we driving it aggressively? Absolutely.

Q: So we don’t know yet when the first basket will be scored in the Nets arena?
A: You know the history of predicting dates for it. I think the important thing is the commitment that the government has, that the city/state government has in working with Forest City to drive the project forward.

Video is available at Scroll through the video links on the right-hand side under "Online Exclusives."

Posted by lumi at 5:01 AM

Noticing Noticing New York: a twofer

Markowitz, McCullough, Me and Other Merry Minions of the Blogosphere

Though Michael D.D. White's update on the fight to preserve landmark views of the Brooklyn Bridge may have little to do with Atlantic Yards, activists in the fight against Bruce Ratner's Prospect Heights megaproject will get a sense of "deja screw" as Marty Markowitz stages another face-saving compromise and celebrities begin to join the fight, as an autocratic Mayor begins to tighten his grip on the power lever.

Links to Avoid: Unnecessary Temptation, Unnecessary Subsidies

One family's disgraceful fall is a cautionary tale about the inevitable political drift when politicians are faced with hundreds of millions of dollars sloshing around looking for a pocket to fill.

We offer a diagnosis of the source of political drift: We think that what most often separates a political party from its name and principles is the pull of temptation. The temptation in the comptrollers’s scandal is that the structures allowed one man control too much money and there was a lack of transparency to boot. It was just too easy to skim.
Consider, for example, the case of the highly unnecessary Atlantic Yards that is proposed to be massively subsidized almost beyond belief. For starters, the project will never deliver its ostensible benefits which are little but Orwellian fictions. In championing this project, Republican’s like former Governor Pataki or former Senate Leader Joe Bruno become proponents of excessively large government and an extraordinary level of government intervention in the private sector. Conversely, Democrats, like former governor Eliot Spitzer, become proponents of specially aiding a wealthy real estate developer and sports team owner like Bruce Ratner at the expense of the general New York populace. Voila! What better example could you have of political drift?

Unencumbered by a fixed party label, Bloomberg alone is not subject to such criticism since, names aside, he seems to be fixedly devoted to only one thing. He is regularly on the side of an oligarchic big government that aids the privileged.

Posted by lumi at 3:56 AM

April 22, 2009

Former Port Authority head warns about deferring infrastructure decisions to private entities (and what about AY?)

Atlantic Yards Report

Last night's panel discussion at the Municipal Art Society, The City in the Age of Obama, was notably thought-provoking, applying some reasonable skepticism to the daunting challenges facing the region.

Anthony Shorris, director of the NYU Wagner Rudin Center for Transportation Policy, and former executive director of the Port Authority of NY/NJ, had the most resonant lines, warning that questions of infrastructure face major and various roadblocks.
He then made comments that, while not directly about Atlantic Yards, certainly had some resonance, especially given Forest City Enterprises' claim that "we control the pace" even as as the developer is reportedly looking to build a less expensive replacement railyard than it promised.

"The fourth challenge that requires rethinking... is the boundary between public and private," Shorris said. "Increasingly we've deferred much of the [infrastructure] decisionmaking to the private sector"--his tone turned sardonic--"and we know by definition the public sector is incompetent and corrupt, unable to make decisions wisely; the only people who can make decisions wisely are clearly bankers."


Posted by lumi at 6:01 AM

April 19, 2009

The Rocawear Pop Shop: from blight to bling and back

Atlantic Yards Report

RocaWare Amid The Blight

Norman Oder visits the mobile Rocawear shop that has parked on the site of the proposed Barclay's Arena. He finds the developer-created blight unavoidable.

Yesterday I checked out the mobile Rocawear shop that finally arrived Friday (I'd thought Thursday) at the northeast corner of Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue.

Up close it's a nifty retail concept, and other news coverage (e.g., The Brooklyn Paper) has given us a close-up exterior shot, plus an interior view.


Go inside ... and it's an immersive environment, a lounge on wheels: no windows, flattering lighting, couches, and hip-hop videos providing the proper ambience to sell $28 t-shirts and $48 polo shirts (among other things) anointed by rap superstar Jay-Z.


Exit to a barren stretch of Flatbush Avenue, however, and the blight is palpable.

It would take a lot of temporary installments--shops, flea market, playground--to bring life to the empty lots created by demolitions in the Atlantic Yards footprint.


Posted by steve at 7:47 AM

April 17, 2009

Doctoroff reflects on PlaNYC's virtues; contrasts with AY evident

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder uses former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's own words to expose the big lie otherwise known as Atlantic Yards.

As the second anniversary of the debut of PlaNYC 2030 approaches, former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff Wednesday reflected on "one of the Bloomberg administration's proudest legacies." The event, at the Museum of the City of New York, was the first public appearance in which Doctoroff addressed the issue since he left government.

While a framework plan like PlaNYC is not the same as a development project like AY, notably, many of the principles behind the former--an emphasis on consultation and achievable goals, realistically presented--seem counter to the city's embrace of Atlantic Yards.


Posted by eric at 11:48 AM

April 11, 2009

Two Entries on Historic Preservation From Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards Report

A few mayoral candidates (but not the big two) on historic preservation, plus more from the HDC conference

For their annual conference, the Historic Districts Council invited 5 mayoral candidates. The two considered the top contenders, incumbent Mayor Mike Bloomberg and City Comptroller Bill Thompson, stayed away. Those who did appear were Tony Avella, Green Party candidate Bill (Rev. Billy) Talen, and Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Tony Avella spoke of steps he's taken that, had they been enacted earlier, might have saved the Ward Bakery Building in the footprint of the proposed Atlantic Yards.

He cited his success in enacting the “demolition by neglect” bill, which plugged a “huge loophole” in the landmarks law, allowing owners to demolish a landmarked building that had fallen into disrepair. The opposition was not just the real estate industry, he noted, but also, the religious community, which often wants more control of real estate that could be turned into development sites.

He said he’s been working on a bill to give the LPC the power to trump a demolition permit. “Even if they have a permit, we should have power to say, the building is still there, you’re going to have to hold off for 30 days,” Avella said. That could have at least stalled the Ward Bakery demolition.

Those fighting Atlantic Yards will readily agree to this quote from Bill Talen:

“The government must no longer be the partner of the real estate developers and speculators.”

This quote was part of remarks by former State Senator and Council Member John Sabini:

Sabini offered the money quote: “Real estate is to New York what oil is to Texas.”

Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan offered an idea as to how to uncouple the interests of developers from construction unions so that the unions wouldn't have to endorse every development proposal, no matter how outlandish:

Brennan suggested there may be a way out of polarizing development battles pitting residents against construction workers. “Unions become allies because they are dependent on these megaprojects for their employment and always take the short-term pro-development point of view,” Brennan said.

“I think government needs to promote public works and development in a balanced stabilizing manner, so construction unions are less dependent on the private sector.”

At a crossroads, preservationists urged to find clear message and collective voice

Norman Oder has gone through the report "Preservation Vision: Planning for the Future of Preservation in New York City" (PDF), released by Minerva Partners, and highlighted portions of particular siginficance to the Atlantic Yards and the effort to save the Ward Bakery.

The report paints a bleak picture for the current state of preservation in New York, but offers suggestions in ten categories as to how to make preservation a priority:

  • Sustainability
  • Research
  • Incentives
  • Land use regulations
  • Strengthening the Landmarks Law
  • Community livability
  • Messaging & branding
  • Alliances & diversity
  • Funding
  • Education

Here are highlights under the heading "Community Livability":

It’s important to link preservation to affordable housing, since it shows a recognition of an important issue. Then again, it's a challenge, since, in the case of Atlantic Yards, affordable housing is a tradeoff for increasing density, something often not possible via preservation.

Suggestions include: Find a way to make it easier to use the Historic Preservation tax credit program; if the State Historic Preservation Office could be more flexible and the standards for restoration eased so that developers could also conform to code requirements, the tax credit could be used to help finance safe and affordable apartments.

Collaborate with affordable housing developers and advocacy organizations on tax credit filing, research and paperwork in support of middle class property owners and lower-income housing developers.

Create a city policy for mandatory inclusionary zoning, with new subsidies for the creation of affordable housing; since available properties are privately owned and expensive for affordable housing developers to buy, more public funding should be devoted to helping them succeed.

Rethink the question of density on wide streets; NYC has been and will continue to be a growing city, no historic district designation or down-zoning should be affected without some thought to where new housing can be built in the community.

Here are some ideas in the "Messaging and branding" category:

Preservationists are often perceived as stodgy, elitist, negative, and scolding -- not a good thing. Even the terms “preservation” and “historic” suggest an emphasis on the connoisseur, not the layperson. How to mainstream it?

Among the suggestions: Put human stories first: notions of “neighborhood preservation” and “community character” and “sense of place” have meaning for regular New Yorkers, but they need translation and specificity; for now, many associate the work of the profession with the negative impacts of gentrification.

Coordinate an event series, like Open House New York, for preservation.

Posted by steve at 6:45 AM

April 7, 2009

A baker's dozen of memories

NY Daily News
By Jotham Sederstrom and Sarah R. Kaufman

Last year, neighborhood activists tried to preserve the Ward Bakery building. The Daily News helps residents preserve the memories:

Joseph Medina, who has lived in Prospect Heights for all of his 29 years, remembers weekly trips to the Ward Bakery, a historic building that succumbed to the wrecker's ball last year.
"It was monumental," Medina said of the buildings that have been razed since last year, including the bakery. "You see buildings you've seen all your life being knocked down, torn down. And they disappear."

A mattress store was the first to come down, Medina said, followed by several apartments and, finally, Ward Bakery, which was built in 1911 and knocked down in October.

In middle school, Medina said, he and his friends would get free doughnuts by the dozen from a friendly security guard until the bakery closed in 1995, when he was 15 years old.


Posted by lumi at 6:43 AM

March 22, 2009

The Xanadu story: a reminder about "public authorities largely operating out of public view" and some sobering AY parallels

Atlantic Yards Report

Who can name a development plan that involves back-room deals done between State agencies and a developer, over-optimistic financial assumptions, and deadlines that just keep getting moved further and further back? You say "Atlantic Yards"? That is one correct answer, but the answer I was looking for was "Xanadu".

See the remarkable parallels to Atlantic Yards including this comparison of two struggling developers:

WNYC pointed out that Colony Capital -- the current private sponsor of Xanadu -- failed to make its November payments on a $360 million loan to creditors.

And the Star-Ledger reported yesterday that workers at the Xanadu site "said they were told they were being let go, but a spokesman for the developer, Meadowlands Xanadu, said the project is not being halted," just delayed.

That echoes the mysterious close of work at the Vanderbilt Yard in Brooklyn, which Forest City Ratner blamed on lawsuits but which workers said (I've been told secondhand) was due to cash flow problems. Remember, FCR made virtually no explanation even to the ESDC.

And parent Forest City Enterprises, apparently trying to avoid the fate of a Colony Capital, is selling prime properties to raise cash and is reevaluating the Beekman Tower in Manhattan and may leave it at 50% of its planned height.


Posted by steve at 10:00 AM

March 17, 2009

City criticizes developer for writing Coney zoning amendments, but has not criticized source of AY design guidelines

Atlantic Yards Report

According to the Daily News, "Local pols approved dramatic new changes to the city's plan for Coney Island at a developer's urging, infuriating city officials, sources said."

A city official summed up his or her indignation this way: "Having a for-profit developer write these zoning amendments is the equivalent of having a Big Tobacco lobbyist write anti-smoking legislation."

More proof that Atlantic Yards is the exception to the rule, Norman Oder reminds us that one of his Freedom of Information Law requests turned up the revelation that the Atlantic Yards design guidelines were created by none other than the developer's own designer, Frank Gehry.


Posted by lumi at 5:56 AM

March 13, 2009

Cities in Crisis

America’s cities are fighting foreclosures, stalled development and budget shortfalls on a scale not seen in a generation. But innovation is taking root in the empty spaces left by economic retreat. A look at how tomorrow’s American cities will be leaner — and greener.

Next American City
By Ariella Cohen

Cities are struggling to find new solutions for budget gaps, neighborhoods hard hit by the foreclosure shock wave, and stalled real estate projects. In this climate is Atlantic Yards "too big to succeed?"

Last fall, that prediction began to come true. In November, architect Frank Gehry laid off the staff working on the arena and skyscrapers. Forest City, the parent company of the site’s corporate developer, has said that while it remains committed to the project, it faces credit problems and has been unable to secure commercial tenants for the project’s signature tower, known as “Ms. Brooklyn.” In a December conference call, Forest City CEO Charles Ratner told investors and analysts that the company would not begin any new projects until the market recovered, a dead halt after four years during which the company averaged $800 million in new project starts. “Today,” he said, “you can’t take a pencil and figure a return. When you can’t make money, you don’t do it.”

Footprint resident Daniel Goldstein sees opportunity in one neighborhood's struggle:

“There is an opportunity to go back and design a project with the community, a project that the community wants and would benefit from.”

Ron Shiffman, a professor at the Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment and a former commissioner at the New York City Planning Commission, agrees. “There are empty lots where luxury condos were planned,” he says. “Now we see that this idea that we would always have an unending supply of the wealthy is wrong, and we see that we need to diversify the way we are building our cities.”


Posted by lumi at 5:26 AM

March 2, 2009

Community-Based Plan of the Month: the UNITY Plan

The Campaign for Community-Based Planning


This monthly feature profiles a plan included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community-Based Plans in New York City, an interactive, online tool created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force. This month, we feature the UNITY Plan, a community-based alternative to the proposed Atlantic Yards development.


Posted by lumi at 5:10 AM

A look at a rescued and revived Ward Bakery (in New Jersey)

Atlantic Yards Report

The Ward Bakery turned into affordable housing — Norman Oder takes a look at what could have been a real win-win for Brooklyn:


Given the recent demise of the Ward Bakery in Prospect Heights, demolished by developer Forest City Ratner and with a few fragments turned into art, let's look at the renovation of another Ward Bakery (right), which straddles the border of Newark and East Orange, NJ.

Located in a depressed neighborhood, the building, now known as Bakery Village, was renovated into affordable housing that opened in 1999.

When I wrote about the project, in March 2007, I cited an Urban Land Institute report that said, “The building, however, required massive, expensive structural improvements and environmental cleanup.”

Well, "massive" and "expensive" is in the eye of the beholder. A look back at the news coverage suggests that, while it may have seemed costly in the 1990s, it was far less expensive than the sums suggested by the Empire State Development Corporation to renovate the building in Prospect Heights.


Posted by lumi at 4:15 AM

February 26, 2009

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #10-13

Noticing New York

City planners constantly wrestle with the question WWJD (what would Jane do?).

Though the celebrated urban activist and author Jane Jacobs passed away before handing out a detailed report card on Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards eminent domain-abusing superblock megaproject, her research and groundbreaking books provide enough information for acolytes to fill in the blanks.

Blogger Michael D. D. White continues his series (links and excerpts below):


Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #10: Building Creates Close-grained Weave of City Fabric? NO

Jane Jacobs calls for cities to be constructed with intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support both economically and socially. Atlantic Yards, and the Ratner Metrotech and the Atlantic Centers do not incorporate such close grained and intricate features.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #11: Project Will Be Developed Gradually Working with City Fabric? NO

Jane Jacobs calls for cities to be constructed gradually so as not to lose the existing intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that has built up slowly and organically and does not replace itself easily. Atlantic Yards, which is planned to be under construction continuously until finished will be the opposite of a gradual event, partly because of its concentrated scale and partly because, rather than integrate with existing fabric, it goes out of its way to tear down existing fabric and replace it in one sudden “swoop.”

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #12: Avoidance of Projects Being Apart from Weave of City Fabric? NO

Jane Jacobs objects to projects being constructed in a self-isolating way, apart from the weave of the city fabric, which is the way that Atlantic Yards is proposed to be built and the way that Ratner’s Metrotech was built.

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #13: Project Participates in City Fluidity? NO

Jane Jacobs suggests that cities must provide fluidity which means that different sections of the city should work together in multiplying options and choice for the city’s dwellers in general. There is no evidence that Atlantic Yards (or Metrotech) is creating any new options for living or working that people will utilize.

Posted by lumi at 4:44 AM

February 25, 2009


Noticing New York

UnfunnyValentine.gif Blogger Michael D. D. White imagines neighborhoods sending each other Valentine's Day cards because... well because when it comes to city planning, there's not a whole lotta love goin' round.

9. The Proposed Atlantic Yards Megadevelopment in Brooklyn: Poster Child For Everything Developmentally Bad. Speaking of destroying what the community values and what is economically of superior value, the Fort Greene and Prospect Heights communities, near the proposed Atlantic Yards, should get a valentine from Red Hook. The developer-driven Atlantic Yards involves tearing down worthwhile existing buildings. Some of those buildings, like the Ward Bakery are historic and surpassingly valuable as candidates for adaptive reuse. Others were very recently produced within the last few years by a vigorous and governmentally unaided development economy that the project seeks to quash and replace. The communities near Atlantic Yards will be getting empathy valentines from, and sending them to, almost all the other communities in New York beset by bad development. Atlantic Yards is the one project that is so supremely bad that it is the poster child for virtually every kind of city and state development incompetence and collusive oversubsidization of big developers.


Atlantic Yards Report, Noticing New York's critique of major projects, and the path not taken of site preparation (at Hudson Yards and AY)

The "Mad O" finds some interesting points in Michael "Double D" White's Funny Valentine post:

There White takes on stadium projects, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Columbia University expansion, the Rudin/St. Vincent’s Real Estate Deal, and a whole lot more. Atlantic Yards, not surprisingly, is deemed "Poster Child For Everything Developmentally Bad."

But probably the most resonant observation regarding AY comes in the segment White devotes to the Hudson Yards project, to be built on railyards that require some very expensive platforms. (The Vanderbilt Yard, less than 40% of the AY site, also would require a platform but not one as extensive.)

White observes:

If the government (as opposed to a private developer) was preparing the site it would not be necessary to postpone the site’s preparation at this time. Site preparation during the current economic downturn might even be cheaper. As it would be a public work, it would arguably be in the running for funding through federal stimulus, an important part of that being that the prepared parcels would later be bid out. But stimulus money cannot be given to a private developer already signed onto the deal because it would totally change the equation based upon which the developer bid to pay the public a low amount for the site. Used that way, the money would eliminate the risk developer assumed and constitute an award of enormous private benefit to the developer without bid.

The same would be true regarding Atlantic Yards, despite Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's push for federal stimulus money for the railyard.

Posted by lumi at 5:17 AM

February 9, 2009

Report: City wasted resources on projects like Atlantic Yards instead of investing in infrastructure

Atlantic Yards Report


A report released last Friday by the Center for an Urban Future, titled Reviving the City of Aspiration, lays out the daunting challenges faced by the middle-class in New York City and lays out some potential solutions.

I'll write about the report in more detail later on, but here's one resonant excerpt:

As the city economy boomed over the last dozen years, city leaders expended a large chunk of New York’s economic development and planning resources on costly sports stadiums and glitzy developments like Atlantic Yards, Governor’s Island and the new Penn Station—projects that garner headlines and facilitate huge private profits, but do little to shore up the basic building blocks of life in the five boroughs. The opportunity cost came in investments not made to increase the frequency of subway service, create new express bus and ferry routes and renovate critical infrastructure—projects that would help reduce commuting times and improve New Yorkers’ quality of life. Local officials must now make it a priority to undertake these infrastructure projects, while continuing ongoing efforts to improve public schools and reduce crime.

None of the news coverage last week picked up on this one.

The issue isn't completely cut and dried. Surely a new Penn Station is needed, and Atlantic Yards would include some infrastructure improvements. But the economic case for a new arena--capturing revenues from New Jersey--has declined steadily as the city put more money into the project, and it may well be a money-loser.


By the way, the cover photo of the report was shot by Atlantic Yards Camera Club member and Brit in Brooklyn blogger Adrian Kinloch.

Posted by lumi at 5:32 AM

January 27, 2009

Learning from Rockefeller Center: building during a downturn, the role of p.r., and the difficulty of effective urbanism

Atlantic Yards Report

...Rockefeller Center occupies 22 acres, the size of the current Atlantic Yards footprint (announced at 21 acres). Rock Center has 19 commercial buildings; Atlantic Yards would have an arena, an office building or two, and the rest of the 16 towers would be housing.

Despite a distinct difference between a complex with no housing and another that would mostly contain housing, there are some interesting comparisons and contrasts, as a reading of Daniel Okrent's terrific Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, published in 2003, suggests.

So some relevant issues, as I'll discuss below, include the shifting costs and program; the drumbeat of public relations; the relationship with holdouts; the role of zoning; the capacity to gain tax breaks; and the opportunity to build during an economic downturn.

Ultimately, however, the message is clear: even if Atlantic Yards gets built as proposed, which is enormously unlikely, Rockefeller Center would be a very difficult standard to meet.


Posted by lumi at 3:53 AM

January 12, 2009

Eminent Domain Is Density

Noticing New York

Michael D. D. White makes a point that has so far been overlooked in the conversation about the use of eminent domain for property transfer from one private owner to another in an urban environment... it inevitably leads to greater density and all of the attendant issues.

It does not seem to be an accident that density and the use of eminent domain coincide in the following examples of recent and proposed NYC development:

  1. The Bank of America Tower, the second tallest building in New York (6th Avenue and West 42nd Street. Year of completion 2009)


  1. The New York Times Tower, which is tied with Chrysler Building for third place as the third tallest building in New York (8th Avenue between West 41st Street and 40th Street. Year of completion 2007)

  2. The proposed 22-acre Atlantic Yards megadevelopment which, calculated on a per square mile basis, would be twice as dense as the densest census tract in the country. (Though the 22 contiguous acres of the megadevelopment should certainly be considered as a whole, the 22 acres do not constitute a single census tract since the span of acreage spans partakes in four different districts. See: Ratner Will Bring Us Closer Together, by Matthew Schuerman in the Observer, October 5, 2006. The project area unto itself is substantial: Though the project design involves discredited superblocking, its footprint could readily constitute 10 city blocks if it were better laid out.)

...Eminent domain is being used as the tool to shoehorn in density that would not be achievable under normal circumstances. The fact that these three examples are current era projects separated by only a few years bespeaks something of the new proclivity to use eminent domain to force private owners to transfer their property to other private owners. Often the transfers being forced involve the new, after-transfer owners making similar or identical use of the land as the original owners even though the original owners’ actual buildings might be torn down.


Posted by lumi at 5:00 AM

January 2, 2009

Atlantic Yards Report twofer

Another report argues against parking requirements for projects like Atlantic Yards

Thanks to Streetsblog's end-of-the-year roundup for pointing me to the much-overlooked Transportation Alternatives report, Suburbanizing the City: How New York City Parking Requirements Lead to More Driving [29MB PDF].

What Streetsblog calls the "Best Policy Paper That You Probably Didn't See Because They Released it at the End of August" reinforces the observation--as I wrote 12/24/07 in a piece headlined PlaNYC 1950--that residential parking shouldn't be required at large outer-borough projects near transit hubs.
The report mentions Atlantic Yards, but I think the numbers projected in the chart (click to enlarge) are misleading.

The report blends the residential and commercial variations presented in the AY environmental review, but the former configuration, as I've written, is far more likely, which would produce 2570 underground spaces for residents component and an additional 1100 underground spaces for the arena.

IS ULURP on the way out when the City Charter is revised?

The Courier-Life chain reported last week, in an article headlined Community input may be on the outs - City looking to re-examine uniform land-usage guidelines that revisions to city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) will be looked at by a City Charter revision panel Mayor Mike Bloomberg is expected to establish next year.

Such a change has been talked about for months, including in a 5/11/08 Daily News column, as I reported.

The Courier-Life article quoted an anonymous "informed source, who attended a discussion of the issue at a meeting held by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, the goal may be to shorten the lengthy ULURP process." The goal: to move development much faster.
Some large projects, like Atlantic Yards, have been exempted from ULURP because the city agreed to let the state take the lead. Even though former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff has acknowledged that Atlantic Yards should have gone through ULRUP, note that a city housing official has observed that ULURP doesn’t work for large projects.

Posted by lumi at 4:35 AM

December 8, 2008

MAS Prescience on Subject of One Developer: Could Prescience Have Been Greater?

Noticing New York

Atlantic Yards Report today has a pickup from our recent Willets Point series, noting the prescience of the Municipal Art Society in advocating the superiority of the multiple-developer model used at Battery Park City and Queens West over the ineffective one-developer model envisioned for the Willets Point megadevelopment. The one-developer model is the same approach that is now failing at Atlantic Yards megadevelopment.
MAS’s indisputable prescience is laudable, but we need to ask one important question. Could MAS have improved upon its prescience? We think the answer is yes.
Here is where MAS’s clear sightedness falls short. We have been urging a mutideveloper model for Atlantic Yards as far back as we can remember and we were very glad to see it is an important part of the proposed alternative Unity Plan. In contradistinction to the UNITY plan, MAS and Brooklyn Speaks, of which it is a part, have been described as having a "mend it don't end it" stance regarding Atlantic Yards.


Posted by lumi at 5:02 AM

December 5, 2008

Will It Come? What the Bloomberg Administration Wills at Willets Point

Noticing New York blogger Michael D. D. White is a curious mix of lawyer and urban planner with expertise in the public and private sector.

WilletsPointDrawing.jpg Today White posted a four-part series on Willets Point, which like Atlantic Yards, is a case study of the coercive use of eminent domain to clear way for a Xanadu-like megaproject, oops... we mean "the next great neighborhood." White explores the decision making and environmental review process, the effect of Taxpayer Field (aka Citifield), the benefit to the developer of upzoning, the story behind jobs, and the politics of "affordable housing" (including our foresight on ACORN's conversion).

For those of you trying to get caught up on the politics and planning behind Willets Point, this is a must read that contains information and analysis that you'll never find in the mainstream media.

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

Posted by lumi at 4:51 AM

December 3, 2008

Lessons from the Ward Bakery demo

AK-WardBakeryCornice.jpg Noticing New York, Landmarks Preservation Commission: Will Times Special Series Have it All Covered?
Michael D. D. White wonders if the NY Times will ever understand the significance of Bruce Ratner's demolition of the Ward Bakery building:

Just as there is no legitimate need to destroy cornices, round-arched windows and serpentine ornamentation first, there was no need to destroy the Ward Bakery Building so soon. It will probably be decades hence if it is ever replaced by Ratner at all. Still, this kind of demolition, driven by Ratner’s inverse values, continues today as he targets for demolition first that which has greatest value to the community. The current case in point is the demolition of three attractive town houses on Dean Street.

Atlantic Yards Report, The Ward Bakery gets an LPC dis (and a timing error) in the Times
Norman Oder notes that the Times finally mentions the Ward Bakery building, but only gets a clue about when it was demolished after the fact:

Yesterday the bakery got a mention in a long round-up article, though an unnamed LPC spokesperson was given the last word, suggesting that losing the bakery was no big deal.
The Times's belated attention to the topic is underscored by the newspaper of record's inability to figure out when the Ward Bakery was actually demolished, even though the demolition was completed at the end of October, just as the LPC was considering a proposed Prospect Heights Historic District that comes very close to the Atlantic Yards footprint.

...the article as published in print (and in a database) incorrectly reports that the bakery was demolished last year.

However, the online version of the article corrects the record without acknowledging the error.

Posted by lumi at 5:32 AM

December 2, 2008

Preservation and Development, Engaged in a Delicate Dance

The New York Times
by Robin Pogrebin

The Times continues its "Preserving the City" series, and this time gets quickly to the crux of the issue.

Over a decade of whirlwind development, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has repeatedly played dance partner to a potent mix of preservationists, developers and city politicians. It must strike a balance between protecting architecture and accepting economic realities, between a responsibility to history and a knowledge that the city must evolve.

Yet some preservationists and politicians assert that, under a mayoral administration that has emphasized new construction — from behemoth stadiums to architecturally bold condo towers — big developers have too often been allowed to lead on the dance floor. Some accuse the landmarks commission, charged with guarding the city’s architectural heritage, of backing off too readily when important developers’ interests are at stake.

“The real estate industry controls the agenda in the city,” said Tony Avella, a city councilman from Queens. “If they don’t want something to happen, it doesn’t happen. They pull the strings from behind the scenes, whether in rezoning reform or landmarking. It’s just incredible how much influence they have.”

Indeed. As in the following case, for example.

Yet the commission is faulted for refusing to schedule public hearings on some of the most fiercely contested projects, like Ward’s Bakery, an imposing terra-cotta-tiled structure that lay within the 22-acre footprint of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. In 2006 the commission’s staff determined that the building was not eligible for a hearing on landmark designation. Yet it was ruled eligible for a listing in 2003 on the National Register of Historic Places. Forest City Ratner tore down the bakery this year.

“This appears to be a political decision by the landmarks commission,” Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, was quoted as saying at the time. “It is deeply frustrating that they have let politics enter their deliberation on a building that clearly deserves landmark status.”

A commission spokeswoman said of the bakery, “There are many other industrial structures like it around the city, and it had several branches throughout the city.”


NoLandGrab: We challenge the "commission spokesperson" quoted above to show us one example as fine as the Ward Bakery — if such a building still stands, it's a safe bet it doesn't lie in the footprint of a politically connected megadeveloper's megaproject.


Brownstoner, The Dance of Preservation and Progress

Posted by eric at 1:59 PM

November 30, 2008

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #9: Park Design Makes Use of “Enclosure” to Define Park Space? NO


Noticing New York produced six new segments of the "Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card," five deal with the definition of park space, and the sixth asks "Appropriate Density? NO":

The absolutely incomparable density of Atlantic Yards is one of its most clearly controversial features. Jane Jacobs considered herself to be a proponent of density, describing in her book as dense the similarly dense neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights and Greenwich Village, but she was not a proponent of a particular level of density which should be mathematically measured. Instead, she was a proponent of density at a level that would perform well, which would vary according to many other specific factors in play. She also called for gradual reductions of density when appropriate. Atlantic Yards is immensely more dense than, at least double, Manhattan and any area of New York City now or that might have been targets for such a density reduction at the time she wrote.

Uses Parks as Focal Points? NO

Has Intricacy of Park Design? NO

Parks Are Designed with Desirable Centers? NO

Parks Are Designed So Sun Shines Within Them? NO

Park Design Makes Use of “Enclosure” to Define Park Space? NO

Posted by amy at 8:30 AM

November 27, 2008

How the (unintended consequences of) the EIS process fostered suburban sprawl

Atlantic Yards Report

Developer Jonathan Rose shares his opinions on what is wrong with environmental impact statements and their effect on suburban sprawl.

"One person chooses to build a 1000-unit urban project in a city and they get held up for five years in an environmental impact statement," he concluded. "And so the unintended consequence of NEPA [National Environmental Protection Act ] actually was one more of the many things that made it easier for suburban sprawl to proceed from 1970 to 2000 instead of urban redevelopment."
NEPA is also a poor planning tool, he says, because of its heavy reliance on environmental impact statements, whose accuracy he believes is unproven. "I ask this of Planning magazine readers: Does anybody have a good, broad-based study of a diverse group of environmental impact statements of [completed] projects that 10 years later were back-tested to see if the predictions were accurate?"

One of the reasons he believes they can't be accurate is that "they look at projects from a granular point of view; essentially, they look at a project by itself, and not the whole system."


Posted by lumi at 4:30 AM

November 26, 2008

An Opaque and Lengthy Road to Landmark Status

The New York Times
by Robin Pogrebin

An in-depth examination of New York City's dysfunctional Landmarks Preservation Commission of course omits mention of the LPC's failure to act to save the Ward Bakery building, which was only recently reduced to rubble by The Times's development partner, Atlantic Yards mastermind Bruce Ratner.

Ruling on a lawsuit filed in March against the landmarks commission’s top officials by a preservationist coalition, the judge called the agency’s inaction “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered it to start making timely decisions on every designation request. To allow such proposals “to languish is to defeat the very purpose of the L.P.C. and invite the loss of irreplaceable landmarks,” the judge, Marilyn Shafer, wrote.

The city says it will appeal. Still, the ruling was a significant victory for preservationists and politicians across the city who have long accused the commission of lacking the responsiveness and accountability that citizens expect from a watchdog of the city’s architectural history.

A six-month examination of the commission’s operations by The New York Times reveals an overtaxed agency that has taken years to act on some proposed designations, even as soaring development pressures put historic buildings at risk. Its decision-making is often opaque, and its record-keeping on landmark-designation requests is so spotty that staff members are uncertain how many it rejects in a given year.


NoLandGrab: Here's a shocker — the LPC's chairman, who turned down a 20% budget increase approved by the City Council last year, has no background in architecture, urban planning or historic preservation.

Posted by eric at 12:59 PM

November 24, 2008

NYC's chief urban designer salutes continuity and vitality of streets (and what about AY?)

Atlantic Yards Report

The Director of Urban Design for the Department of City Planning, Alexandros Washburn, only joined the administration in January 2007, so he's presumably had little contact with the Atlantic Yards project, which got its final state approval a month earlier. (The City Planning Commission in September 2006 had endorsed the project, with minor changes.)

Still, it was remarkable how, in a recent discussion of the city's planning practices, he saluted the High Line project, which began with public infrastructure, not a private developer, involved multiple developers, and emphasized streets rather than demapped them. The contrast with Atlantic Yards is stark.


Posted by lumi at 4:17 AM

November 21, 2008

Plan to Redevelop Seaport Is Spurned for the Mass, Scale and Height of Its Buildings

The New York Times
by David W. Dunlap and Sewell Chan

What's good for the South Street Seaport is apparently not good for Prospect Heights, at least where the Landmarks Preservation Commission is concerned.

An ambitious and much-debated plan to redevelop the low-rise South Street Seaport with a 42-story apartment and hotel was rebuffed in its current form on Tuesday by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Eventually, the plummeting economy might have reshaped the redevelopment proposal by General Growth Properties of Chicago, which itself faces an uncertain future. But the landmarks commission got to it first.

A majority of the commissioners made it clear that they did not find the proposed massing, scale and height of the buildings appropriate to the 19th-century historic district, said a spokeswoman for the commission, Elisabeth de Bourbon.

The redevelopment plan — a mix of stores, hotel rooms, apartments and open space — is strongly favored by the Bloomberg administration. SHoP Architects has designed a 495-foot tower, clad in a terra-cotta exoskeleton, rising on new pilings in the East River. A 1980s mall on Pier 17 would be replaced with two-story retail buildings, a four- and six-story hotel, walkways, a plaza, and the refurbished and relocated Tin Building.


NoLandGrab: While the LPC is now considering a Prospect Height Historic District that carefully avoids the proposed footprint of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it refused to consider protecting noteworthy buildings in the path of Ratner's wrecking ball, like the old Spalding Factory and the now-demolished Ward Bakery — which was, ironically, perhaps the finest example of a terra-cotta-clad building in New York.

For the record, the Atlantic Yards plan includes several towers of a similar "mass, scale and height" as the building proposed at the Seaport, all of which would loom over low-rise, 19th-century Prospect Heights and Fort Greene.

Posted by eric at 10:41 AM

Port Authority's Ward: AY represents simple--er, complex--density challenge

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports on recent comments about Atlantic Yards made by Port Authority chief Christopher Ward.

Then he got to Atlantic Yards. “That is part of the challenge that we face in terms of where we will build," he said. "Think of the challenge that Bruce Ratner’s facing, Atlantic Yards, where you’ve had exactly what you could describe as a transit-oriented development resisted heavily, simply because--simply for the complex reason that the community around there does not match the height, density, and character. So you have the brownstone versus the skyscraper, although Atlantic I think is the MTA’s second-largest transit hub within the city, which lends itself to the very model that Hong Kong represents.”
(Emphasis added)

It's the third-largest transit hub, I believe, but not necessarily the third-busiest. (Aren't Times Square, Grand Central, and Union Square busier?)

Ward's awkward syntax suggests that the issue is more complex than simple. Yes, many have resisted the project's scale and density, but supporters of the UNITY plan welcome significant density, just not at the level that Forest City Ratner proposes. Urban planner Ron Shiffman, a supporter of density, has argued that the proposed density "far exceeds the carrying capacity of the area’s physical, social, cultural, and educational infrastructure."

Several other issues generate resistance, including the undemocratic approval process, the level of public subsidy, and the use of eminent domain based on questionable findings of blight.


Posted by eric at 7:22 AM

November 18, 2008

Atlantic Yards Report Watch

Though Norman Oder is majoring in Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards megaproject, the overachiving Mad Overkiller seems to be minoring in NYC Urban Planning. Today he double-posted on the efforts to rezone the Gowanus Canal area and Coney Island:

Learning from AY: Gowanus Summit insists balanced development desirable and possible

They didn't say so explicitly, but it sure looks like the Gowanus Summit--a coalition of community organizations, affordable housing advocates, labor unions, and advocates for blue-collar jobs setting out principles for rezoning in Gowanus--learned from the Atlantic Yards experience.

They haven't let one developer's demand for density and a particular footprint drive the process. They haven't let advocates for affordable housing shout down those who raise questions about other priorities.

Rather, they're trying to have it all, and while the devil will be in the details, they think the package is workable, not just affordable housing but space for industrial jobs, respect for community context, mixed-use zoning, responsible contracting, and a comprehensive approach to neighborhood infrastructure.

Imagine Coney thinks big (and small): new cable car, digital skins, and lucrative $ignage

A little more than four decades ago, many in the city had given up on the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Now it's a thriving, multi-building institution, and its handsome, cavernous BAMcafe, glittering with light and graced with Milton Rosa-Ortiz's floating part-torso sculptures dubbed "Disbelief", was the appropriate setting for last night's standing-room only public unveiling of the Municipal Art Society's (MAS) Imagine Coney project.

It was a particularly opportune time, as well, given that just yesterday morning the New York Post reported that developer (or flipper?) Joe Sitt was ready to give up his plans for hotels (time-shares) and entertainment retail and sell to the city.

Posted by lumi at 5:40 AM

November 16, 2008

Friday Links Roundup

Campaign for Community-Based Planning

As expected, both the Willets Point and Hunters Point South (rendering shown here via EDC) plans got approval from the City Council yesterday. Atlantic Yards Report has an interesting comparison of the Willets Point and Atlantic Yards plans in regards to affordable housing.

In other AY news, this week we learned that Barclay’s is sticking around, despite the fact that developer Bruce Ratner will not break ground on the project this month, as previously planned.


Posted by amy at 9:36 AM

November 15, 2008

Catching up with Jane Jacobs and AY

Atlantic Yards Report

In case you didn't check back on my coverage last Saturday of an affordable housing panel that served as the First Annual Jane Jacobs Forum, take a look at the lengthy comments from Benjamin Hemric, a Jacobsian who's read a lot more than The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Then take a look at Michael D.D. White's Noticing New York, where he's expanding on his 1/26/08 Brooklyn Paper op-ed, How Jacobs would view Yards, with methodical posts detailing the 47 criteria used in his report card.


Posted by amy at 10:26 AM

November 10, 2008

Atlantic Yards Report Digest

Today's Atlantic Yards Report focuses on urban planning:

After Oil: dispatches from a conference on the challenges facing cities worldwide

I couldn’t get to Philadelphia this past weekend for the symposium at the University of Pennsylvania titled Re-Imagining Cities: Urban Design After the Age of Oil, but a set of jouranlists and academics blogging at the web site of the magazine Next American City posted some 16,000 words.

I’ve distilled some thought-provoking excerpts below. My overall conclusion is that, however much civic energy is spent on individual controversies (like, um, a certain Brooklyn megaproject), there are huge systemic issues we have to address, and, as noted by some of the bloggers, many of those at those conference--though more motivated than most, obviously-- didn't grasp the urgency of the problem.

In China, many eggs broken for omelet of massive urban tranformation

Last week, I mentioned how an urban planner was impressed by China's massive efforts at urbanization, and that a critic listening was appalled at the casual dismissal of the costs of upheaval.

But how much transformation is there? In an interview in the September issue of Metropolis, headlined The Chinese Century, Thomas J. Campanella, author of The Concrete Dragon: China’s Urban Revolution and What It Means for the World, explained that this is unprecedented:

We’ve never seen anything like this in terms of the sheer amount of stuff being built. But we’ve also never seen so much destroyed in order to build. You know the old maxim “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs”? Robert Moses was very fond of that saying. Well, China has busted a lot of eggs to make this great big omelet. The amount of urban fabric that’s been razed to make way for all this new construction is unprecedented in the peacetime history of world cities. In fact, the only comparable thing we have—and I don’t want to make too much of this because in China it’s reconstruction—is the wartime bombings of cities like Dresden and Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Posted by lumi at 5:11 AM

November 9, 2008

Critic Huxtable: "Everything in this city is totally developer driven"

Atlantic Yards Report

In Philip Lopate's interview in today's New York Times with Ada Louise Huxtable, "the dean of American architectural criticism" has some harsh words for the developer-driven world of architecture in New York today.
Huxtable sets out a central problem: Architecture is a very real and important art; it affects us all so directly. You must judge it in terms of problem-solving in this uneasy, difficult combination of structure and art. My feeling is that criticism is not looking at this — it is treating architecture as eye candy.

Indeed, I'd point out that the late Herbert Muschamp pronounced Atlantic Yards "a Garden of Eden" only with some major blinkers.


Posted by amy at 12:19 PM

November 7, 2008

HPD official says development trade-offs should be transparent (and implicitly indicts the AY approval process)

Atlantic Yards Report

In talking about development trade-offs, a top official in the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Wednesday night provided an (implicit) indictment of the process behind Atlantic Yards.

HPD Deputy Commissioner for Development Holly Leicht spoke matter-of-factly during a panel discussion, titled Housing New Yorkers in the 21st Century, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society and underwritten by the Rockefeller Foundation as the First Annual Jane Jacobs Forum. (I’ll write tomorrow about the broader issues raised at the forum.)

She even declared that the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP)--which Atlantic Yards critics stress was bypassed in the state approval process--doesn’t work for large projects.
ven former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff acknowledges Atlantic Yards should’ve gone through ULURP, which gives community boards an advisory vote and requires the approval of the City Planning Commission and the City Council. Atlantic Yards critics point out that ULURP at least allows local elected officials a voice, adding legitimacy.

HPD's Leicht, however, warned Wednesday night, “ULURP is awfully late to start a conversation about a large project. It’s one thing if you’re talking about a small project, and you’re going to tweak a floor... or affordability, slightly. If you’re talking about a large-scale project, ULURP is simply too late to really have that dialogue.”


Posted by lumi at 4:47 AM

November 3, 2008

Overdevelopment, zoning, and the public realm (and AY)

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder mulls over a couple recent panel discussions on development, overdevelopment, and the future sustainability of cities, and as usual, the conversation comes back to Atlantic Yards.

Interestingly enough, [Hunter College Urban Planning Professor Tom] Angotti found himself agreeing with [Real Estate Board of NY President Steven] Spinola that a lot of neighborhoods in the outer boroughs should have been upzoned, rather than downzoned, “because there was great potential for development in the outer boroughs that was not taken advantage of.”

Then he returned to the whipping boy: “Instead, we have the lunacy of concentrating development in Atlantic Yards. The third largest transit hub, yes, and they call it transit-oriented development, but there’s no improvement to transit. They're putting in a huge parking garage. So, this is not really planning.”


Posted by eric at 11:01 AM

Ward Bakery Rubble


All that is left of the stunning white-terracotta-tiled Ward Bakery building is this windrow of rubble waiting to be loaded and carted away.

This demolition was brought to you by Bruce.

Photo, Atlantic Yards Webcam, November 2, 2008, 12:45pm.

Posted by lumi at 5:39 AM

October 31, 2008

Cutting the Nets?

The Architect's Newspaper Blog

Politics takes a back seat when the Borough President's planning director starts ad libbing:

As with all these things, there was a Power Point presentation, and as with all Power Point presentations, the whole thing took some time to boot up. In the interim, [director of planning and development for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz Jon] Benguiat decided to tell the story of how he became Marty’s planning direct, during which he let some shocking news about the Atlantic Yards, or at least the fate of the Brooklyn Nets, slide.

After explaining how most of the Borough President's planning initiatives are underway or completed, Benguiat added:

I’m not sure if we’re going to get the Nets or not. We should have groundbreaking in December, but we’ll see.”

The Borough President's office issued this statement for clarification:

The current state of the American economy underscores the importance of moving ahead with projects like Atlantic Yards, and I am confident the project will happen. It will create union jobs and much-needed affordable housing, as well as bring professional sports back to Downtown Brooklyn—becoming just the kind of investment magnet that Brooklyn and New York City need right now


NoLandGrab: The moral of the story is planning geeks should be seen, not heard, and it is our patriotic duty to support Atlantic Yards at all costs.

Posted by lumi at 5:41 AM

Who's made the AY timetable gaffe? (Jon) Benguiat or Bertha (Lewis)?

Atlantic Yards Report

Journalist Michael Kinsley famously posited that "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth."

By that measure, on Monday, when Jon Benguiat, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's Director of Planning and Development, "blurted out" (in the words of the Brooklyn Paper), “I don’t know if we’re going to get the Nets,” it was a gaffe.

Yes, it might have been embarrassing to Markowitz, an unabashed Atlantic Yards booster. However, given all the chatter about a potential sale of the team and the delays in starting arena construction, Benguiat's statement was simple candor.
Less credible, and thus more of a real gaffe, was ACORN head Bertha Lewis's unwillingness to acknowledge any doubts about the project and its timetable.


Posted by lumi at 5:40 AM

October 29, 2008

Puzzle Pieces: Proposed Prospect Heights Historic District, LPC Public Hearing

Noticing New York

Michael D. D. White reports from the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on Proposed Prospect Heights Historic District:


The Atlantic Yards megadevelopment abutting the proposed district was mentioned countless times. It was cited repeatedly as the threat which makes creation of a historic district so important. People such as Atlantic Yards opponent City Council Member Tish James were careful to refer to the “proposed” Atlantic Yards. She lingered on the word “proposed” in a deliciously savoring way.

Marty Markowitz, he of the boundless enthusiasm (and questionable “charities”), gave tribute to the threat and negativity of Atlantic Yards in a roundabout way when his boundless enthusiasm overflowed to praise for Prospect Heights as a neighborhood full of “activists.”

Click here to read the rest of the article, including White's own testimony.

Additional coverage: The Brooklyn Paper, Heights anxiety! Locals want Prospect Heights named a historic district.

Posted by lumi at 7:04 PM

At LPC hearing on Prospect Heights Historic District, mention of the Ward Bakery and AY briefly unsettles the mood

Atlantic Yards Report

Yesterday’s public hearing held by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on the designation of part of Prospect Heights as a historic district, involving some 870 properties, was hardly contentious. Various interested parties, residents, neighborhood groups, and preservationists saluted the LPC for its decision to move forward in designating part of Prospect Heights as a historic district.

One question was what exactly people might say about the planned Atlantic Yards project, the blocks of which were not considered as part of the district.

When neighborhood activist Patti Hagan described paying last respects to the Ward Bakery building, the mood became a bit somber.


Posted by lumi at 5:22 AM

October 27, 2008

As Prospect Heights Historic District gets hearing Tuesday, some politic omissions

Atlantic Yards Report

From 1:30 to 3:30 pm Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public hearing on the proposed (PDF) Prospect Heights Historic District, parts of which would border the Atlantic Yards footprint. (Previous coverage.)

The hearing is important both because of its the goal, long sought by Prospect Heights residents, and because it reminds us how landmarking is a political process, especially when historic preservation intersects with the Atlantic Yards project.


Posted by lumi at 5:34 AM

October 23, 2008

Is Overdevelopment Still a Threat?

City Room [NY Times Blog]

Tom Angotti, who directs the Center for Community Planning and Development at Hunter College, has written a new book, “New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate,” to be released by the M.I.T. Press next month. As its title suggests, the book argues that powerful real estate interests have often effectively hijacked land-use decisions in the city, but the book also gives examples of local groups that have organized against environmental hazards, mega-projects, urban renewal and gentrification.


Of course, in just the last few months the fear of “overdevelopment” has been eclipsed, in some quarters perhaps, by fear that the real estate market will decline as a result of the financial and credit crises that have buffeted economies worldwide. Those concerns were the subject of a panel discussion tied to the book’s publication, on Monday evening at the Museum of the City of New York.

Professor Angotti was particularly critical of the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. He said that the developer of the project, Forest City Ratner, “got the state to threaten condemnation of 22 acres in Brooklyn,” and that now “there’s no way they’re going to finance it and we’re looking at probably 20 years or more of parking lots.”

Posted by eric at 2:04 PM

October 20, 2008

Building the Right Landmarks Case; Wrong Building

WardBakery01-NNY.jpg Noticing New York

The NY Times's handwringing over the slow pace over at the NY City's Landmarks Preservation Commission isn't going to change things as long as the current mayor is holding the reins. Blogger Michael D. D. White examines the case of a Manhattan building that was sorta saved and the Brooklyn gem that got outflanked by demolition man Bruce Ratner.


Posted by lumi at 4:33 AM

October 15, 2008

Laurie Olin is(n't) working on Atlantic Yards

It depends on whom you ask

Yesterday, Norman Oder noted on his blog, Atlantic Yards Report, that Laurie Olin's web site indicated that the celebrated landscape designer is no longer working on Atlantic Yards.


The Real Estate Observer, Forest City: Landscape Architect Olin Still Involved at Atlantic Yards
Reporter Eliot Brown from The NY Observer called developer Forest City Ratner for comment, which provided a statement to the contrary:

...via spokesman Joe DePlasco:

"Laurie Olin has been involved from the beginning of the design process and he will be involved in the end. The eight acres of open space will be built as part of Phase 2 of the project, which has always been the case. Mr. Olin has completed preliminary work on that and will be involved going forward."

Atlantic Yards Report, FCR's fudge: Laurie Olin is (maybe) on sabbatical
Oder finally received a statement from Olin's firm and posted this on the blog:

Sure, it's possible that his role has been suspended rather than ended. If so, however, why did his office provide me with a statement that used the past tense regarding the relationship with the developer?

The statement: "OLIN completed a master plan for Atlantic Yards that we believe was a serious response to the many issues raised regarding this portion of the City of New York, and the great need for large amounts of affordable housing with adjacent well-designed, environmentally-responsive public landscape. We enjoyed a supportive and appreciative relationship with the owner/developer, the architects and the City of New York public officials. The current economic turmoil points to the truth that plans of such scope almost inevitably are realized over several economic cycles and must both be able to endure as well as be flexible to change."

NoLandGrab: No matter what the Forest City Ratner spinmeister would have us believe, it sounds like Laurie Olin considers his work on Atlantic Yards to be done [read, Ratner is no longer a paying client] and that the landscape architect does not expect that the project will be completed any time soon, nor will it actually adhere to the original project proposal.

Posted by lumi at 6:09 AM

October 14, 2008

Landscape architect Olin leaves AY project (apparently), predicts "other architects and other hands"

Atlantic Yards Report

Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards web site touts Lauri Olin's design for the Atlantic Yards open space, but Olin's web site indicates that the landscape designer is no longer working on the project.

OlinAY.jpgOlin's office hasn't returned Norman Oder's requests for comment [Update: Oder received a statement from Olin's office late this morning], but that doesn't stop the "Mad O" from piecing together the clues:

It's not clear why he's gone. Maybe Olin's main work in master planning is done. Maybe the developer's trying to save a few bucks. Maybe it's a penalty for having gone off-message regarding the project's timetable and the role of other architects. Maybe it's that the eight acres of promised open space are so far in the future--in an unscheduled Phase 2--that there's no need to keep him on board for now.

Whatever the reason, it certainly diminishes one of the selling points for the project: Olin's role. And it means that Forest City Ratner should stop promoting Olin's role, as on its web site.


Posted by lumi at 5:47 AM

October 3, 2008

"The Glass Stampede," Downtown Brooklyn, & Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

In a thoughtful, more-optimistic-than-not essay published last month, headlined The Glass Stampede, New York Magazine architecture critic Justin Davidson addressed the building boom, with side-by-side photos showing before-and-after views. Though the article contains few Brooklyn examples and no mention of Atlantic Yards, the article still has resonance in Brooklyn.


Posted by lumi at 6:45 AM

September 25, 2008

The Jane Jacobs Medals, Robert Moses, and the view beyond “Death and Life”

Atlantic Yards Report

We nearly spit our coffee this morning while reading this excerpt from Jane Jacobs's "The Economy of Cities," in Norman Oder's reflections on this year's winners of the Jane Jacobs Medal.

There’s little in The Economy of Cities about the street ballet Jacobs described in Death and Life, but there’s one tart observation that has resonance in the Atlantic Yards debate:

Nor is the process by which one thing leads to another confined to profit-making enterprises... Nor is it, as we notice from the papers, confined to useful, legal, or innocuous work... some city-planning departments take to scouting out and processing profitable deals for favored real-estate operators and also to organizing and running fraudulent “citizens’ organizations” to help overcome public opposition.


NoLandGrab: "Favored real-estate operators," "fraudulent 'citizens' organizations'?" And we thought that Atlantic Yards was special.

Posted by lumi at 5:40 AM

September 24, 2008

Should a Teardrop be Shed- Considering the Burden?

Noticing New York


This is about Battery Park City’s Teardrop Park, which I like, and the issue of superblocking. I don’t like superblocks. I am wondering whether to cry a few tears about the inconsistent philosophy of Amanda Burden when it comes to supporting the Atlantic Yards, the ill-conceived megadevelopment supported by the man who appointed her, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.


Atlantic Yards Report, Reducing Noticing New York’s Amanda Burden post to a Tweet

Michael D.D. White's analysis of City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden is worth a read, but if you don't have the time, consider that the microblogging service Twitter limits posts (aka Tweets) to 140 characters.

A. Burden. Worked on BPC. Worried about BPC teardrop park, based on superblock. Park < AY superblock. Burden likes AY. Sincere? Prob. not.

Posted by lumi at 5:27 AM

September 21, 2008

'Meet the Press' transcript for Sept. 21, 2008


Meet the Press Tom Brokaw asks Mayor Bloomberg how the financial crisis will affect city planning:

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: No, we're not going to make the mistake--the mistake that was made in the '70s is we stopped policing the streets, we stopped cleaning the streets, we stopped cleaning the graffiti off buildings, we stopped supporting our cultural institutions and building parks and schools and all those kinds of things. We are going to go ahead and continue those things. We may have to stretch out some construction projects, we may have to ask people to do more with less. We may not be able to have the frills at the edge, but we are not going to walk away from our city. That's the prescription for disaster. When you do that, your tax base leaves, and the rest of this country, as well as New York, are going to have exactly the same decisions to make. The taxpayers are going to have to decide do they want to have a future or not? If they don't want to have a future, then they're not going to have to pay as much now, but if they want to leave a better world for their kids, they're going to have to pay the bills up front.

NoLandGrab: We're not sure what stretching out a construction project could mean, other than allowing endless timelines. Although a project with no timeline and no public money would be great, shouldn't the taxpayers who "have to decide do they want to have a future or not" have some say in these matters?

Posted by amy at 1:20 PM

September 19, 2008

Strategic Economic Development Would Mean Putting Atlantic Yards Out of Its Misery

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn responds to comments made by Marisa Lago, the new head of the Empire State Development Corporation:

It is refreshing to hear that the ESDC has someone at the helm who understands that "strategic economic development" is a necessity in this very shaky "down economy."

The Atlantic Yards plan, proposed in 2003 in an entirely different economy, is in no way strategic in the economy we are in now, and will be in for years to come. Whatever Atlantic Yards is today (and nobody seems to know what it is, not even NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson) it is not strategic.

Strategic economic development would include the principle at the foundation of the UNITY Plan—the community's plan for the Vanderbilt Rail Yards—which is to divide the 8-acre rail yards into multiple, smaller and more manageable parcels to attract multiple developers through a legitimate RFP to pay more to the MTA than Ratner is willing to. The multiplicity of developers would finally detach the sound and strategic development of the yards from the vice grip Ratner has had on it for nearly 5 years thus radically reducing the overall risk. No longer would the development of the yards be dependent on Ratner's fiscal health and his desperate need to move the Nets team for which he overpaid.

Strategic economic development would not include fantasies about the health of the housing market, pr jargon and empty promises about "affordable housing" and jobs; strategic economic development would most certainly not include a taxpayer-subsidized, billion dollar basketball arena plagued by financing troubles, escalating construction costs, eminent domain opposition and litigation.


Posted by lumi at 4:39 AM

September 11, 2008


NoLandGrab Community Commentary

During his travels last month through New England, communtiy activist Alan Rosner's summer reading provided a stark contrast to developments back home in Brooklyn.

Schenectady.jpg On a brief road trip through Western New England and the Hudson Valley, I picked up two free local magazines. One, Chronograph, had an article on the rebirth of Downtown Schenectady, NY. Since I attended Union College there, I read the piece. The next magazine, The Country, had virtually the same story, but about Pittsfield, MA.

The parallels jumped out. Schenectady and Pittsfield had both spiraled downwards, losing their tax bases and downtowns when their largest employers closed up shop — and for both of them, that corporation was General Electric. I’d seen the results in Schenectady on a visit years ago.

Both downtown rebirths came with new mayors who fought for their revitalization, beginning with efforts that brought local theater arts centers back to life. This led to restaurants and retail, combined with a concerted effort to support public and private investment in their downtowns and businesses.

What jumped off the pages was seeing that Schenectady consciously decided not to base their revival on the sports-venue model, while Pittsfield turned to the arts and retail after enduring a bitter, divisive fight over a baseball stadium. That story is documented in former Major League pitcher Jim Bouton’s book, Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark.

Here in Brooklyn, Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Borough President, bit the apple offered by Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner and, forever after, he has pitched a false nostalgia. He turned away from using his booster energy to support the BAM cultural and arts area expansion. Instead he went for the sports stadium, and was enabled by Bloomberg and backed by Pataki’s state power brokers. Now Brooklyn faces ongoing Developer’s Blight, acres of blight-enhancing parking lots, and another 10 to 20 years of construction.

Instead of selling off the commons to inside bidders, Schenectady & Pittsfield chose to enhance theirs, to make it an attractor for their surrounding populations. Brooklyn’s gotten baited and switched.

Another example, albeit one without the false promise of a corporate sports rescue, is the Vermont city of Burlington on the shores of Lake Champlain. We visited, dined & walked around downtown and found a revitalized city, based on making the downtown and lakefront walkable and enjoyable. The arts, entertainment, retail, restaurant & small business model works. It was Brooklyn’s before Marty & Bruce embraced.

Posted by lumi at 4:35 AM

September 2, 2008

The Three C's: Condos, Classrooms and Crowding

Gotham Gazette
By James Trimarco

Bruce Ratner gets a dishonorable mention in an article about the City's failure to include more classroom space while development continues apace:

The current flurry of new luxury housing construction in New York City has created a number of quandaries for the city's public schools.

The influx of students threatens to undermine the quality of nearby schools --often the very thing that helped attract young families in the first place. To further complicate matters, the high land values that good public schools help create make it increasingly difficult for the city to obtain land on which to build new ones. Developers see the expensive real estate as appropriate for only the most profitable projects, and that does not leave much room for schools.
Things can get more contentious when a development is going up on private land. Then, communities must use the various approval procedures to try to get schools included. Requests for rezoning, the city's land use process -- known as ULURP -- and City Council votes all provide some opportunities for neighborhoods to make demands. However, the amount of leverage the community can muster depends more on whether a rezoning is needed than on the urgency of their needs.

Two current cases in this category involve Sheldon Solow and Bruce Ratner, developers not known for harmonious relations with local groups.
Of course, the arm-twisting can go both ways: Bruce Ratner, who agreed to build a school at his Beekman Plaza development in Lower Manhattan, recently threatened to cease construction on it unless he received a 421-a tax abatement valid for 20 years.


NoLandGrab: The issue of classroom space was brought up by community groups two years ago at the public hearings for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

In a nutshell, Forest City Ratner's DEIS claimed that there is plenty of classroom space in the school district that includes the Atlantic Yards footprint. Neighborhood organizations pointed out that the numbers used in the study were already outdated and that the study failed to take into account students crossing district lines to attend schools that are already, technically, overcrowded.

Posted by lumi at 4:52 AM

August 25, 2008

Reshaping the City: Who's Being Heard -- and Why?

Gotham Gazette
By Courtney Gross

An examination of the dramatic rezonings in Mayor Bloomberg's New York notes how Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards plan is special:

Rezonings can come in several ways. There are developer-initiated applications, like Atlantic Yards, but the vast majority begin at the city's planning department.


Posted by lumi at 4:23 AM

August 24, 2008

Will new head of ESDC take a walk around the AY footprint?

Atlantic Yards Report

In March, Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Downstate Chairman Pat Foye, an appointee (and friend) of departed Governor Eliot Spitzer, resigned, leaving his deputy, Avi Schick, as the ESDC's acting president.

Schick, who will leave his post in September, has publicly defended Atlantic Yards. Foye was supposed to visit the AY site, but never did.

Now Governor David Paterson has nominated Marisa Lago, a global head of compliance at Citi Markets and Banking, to be the ESDC's president and chief executive, supervising executives for both downstate and upstate. Reported the New York Times:
Mr. Paterson has made revamping the agency a top priority. As he has sounded the alarm in recent weeks about the increasingly bleak outlook for New York’s economy, a better functioning Empire State Development Corporation has become a key piece of the governor’s economic revitalization plan.


Posted by amy at 11:06 AM

August 14, 2008

A Confrontation Over the Future of Willets Point

The New York Times
by Fernanda Santos


Supporters and foes of the Bloomberg administration’s plan to turn gritty Willets Point in Queens into a $3 billion development of stores, offices and apartments faced off Wednesday in a confrontation that grew emotional and raucous at times.

The hearing combined public testimony on Willets Point and two other rezoning projects, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and at south Hunters Point, along the East River in Queens. Opponents of the Lower East Side and Willets Point plans protested outside the auditorium where the hearing was held through most of the day. Councilman Hiram Monserrate led two dozen opponents of the Willets Point proposal two blocks east, to a spot in Washington Square Park, to confront city officials holding a news conference there.

The opponents interrupted the news conference, which was organized by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, and drowned out advocates for the proposal, chanting “Justice for Willets Point!” and “Save Willets Point!”

The police told the city economic development officials that they could not remove the protesters, saying they had a right to be there, even if they were being disruptive.


NoLandGrab: The EDC couldn't force the removal of the protesters from Washington Square Park, but it remains to be seen whether or not they'll be able to remove them from Willets Point. One thing we're pretty sure about, though, is that this eminent domain-fueled war will see many, many battles before it ends.

Posted by eric at 9:08 AM

August 12, 2008

Police Want Tight Security Zone at Ground Zero

The New York Times
by Charles V. Bagli


Surprise! The NYPD is ordering even tighter security measures at the World Trade Center (they had already ordered 75-foot setbacks for the Freedom Tower and numerous other safeguards in February), but we're still waiting for that independent security study for Atlantic Yards requested by eight Brooklyn elected officials nearly a year ago.

Planners seeking to rebuild the World Trade Center have always envisioned that the 16-acre site would have a vibrant streetscape with distinctive buildings, shops and cultural institutions lining a newly restored street grid. From the destruction of Sept. 11, 2001, a new neighborhood teeming with life would be born.

But now, the Police Department’s latest security proposal entails heavy restrictions.

According to a 36-page presentation given by top-ranking police officials in recent months, the entire area would be placed within a security zone, in which only specially screened taxis, limousines and cars would be allowed through “sally ports,” or barriers staffed by police officers, constructed at each of five entry points.

Landlords, company executives, public officials and some urban planners acknowledged the need for security at ground zero, but worried that the procedures would undermine the effort to reweave the trade center site into the city’s fabric. They fear that the proposed traffic restrictions could create tie-ups in a congested neighborhood and discourage corporate tenants from renting space, or shoppers from visiting the stores in the area.


NoLandGrab: The implementation of similar security measures at the confluence of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues would render the intersection impassable. But the ESDC and Forest City Ratner insist we needn't worry about it.

Ah. We feel better already.

Posted by eric at 5:36 PM

City Council members blast Willets Pt. plan

Crain's NY Business
by Daniel Massey

A day before a City Planning Commission hearing on the Bloomberg administration’s plan to remake Willets Point, a majority of City Council members sent a sharply-worded letter to the planning commissioner opposing the project.

In the letter to Commissioner Amanda Burden, 30 council members say they are in “absolute opposition” to the current proposal to redevelop Willets Point, citing concerns over eminent domain, affordable housing, displaced workers and traffic.

“Unfortunately, this is a product of a flawed process that has continuously ignored the requests of the community in pursuit of a top-down planning process that sets a dangerous precedent for large-scale development projects citywide,” the council members wrote in the letter.

The signature drive was organized by the affordable housing group NY Acorn and is the second time in the last four months it has organized a majority of council members to write to a city official opposing Willets Point. Twenty-nine council members sent a similar letter to Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber in April.

This time, the council members say they will not support the plan unless eminent domain is taken off the table in negotiations with landowners; half of the 5,500 housing units are guaranteed to be affordable; a comprehensive relocation and compensation plan for small business owners and employees is put in place; and a community benefits agreement that includes traffic mitigation is implemented.

The city has said it will use eminent domain only as a last resort; its plan calls for 20% of the housing units to be affordable; it is working with LaGuardia Community College on a program to train the approximately 1,700 workers who will be displaced by the development; and it will require the developer to put $5 million into a traffic mitigation fund.


NoLandGrab: We applaud the efforts and actions of the Councilmembers who've taken a stand against eminent domain abuse, but we're compelled to point out a couple of things.

First, the "dangerous precedent for large-scale development projects citywide" has already been set by Atlantic Yards. In fact, had the Atlantic Yards plot never been hatched by Forest City Ratner, it's likely that the Willets Point plan, however heinous it may be, wouldn't have encountered such significant — and well organized — resistance.

Second, we have to admit we're curious about ACORN's role. Sure, their interest in the affordable housing makes sense, but based on their track record with Atlantic Yards, we have a hard time believing that they give a hoot about the use of eminent domain. Left to ACORN, that would surely be a bargaining chip happily traded for a richer mix of affordable units.

Lastly, we won't belabor the silliness of the city claiming that eminent domain will only be used "as a last resort." It was already put into use long ago as a negotiating bludgeon. We'll focus instead on the $5 million traffic mitigation fund. Shouldn't the mitigation of traffic be a pre-development requirement? The time to fix traffic problems is before they materialize.

Posted by eric at 4:35 PM

Why Not Add Atlantic Yards to the Agenda?

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

DDDB reacts to the City Planning Commission's nonsensical decision to cram three controversial rezoning hearings into one day and one auditorium with a suggestion:

While they're at it, since Atlantic Yards never went through ULURP—thus avoiding a public planning hearing in front of the planning commission or any planning body—perhaps they can add Ratner's project to the agenda.


NoLandGrab: Do you think the repeated scheduling of public hearings on controversial eminent domain-reliant development projects and rezonings in August (Atlantic Yards DEIS public hearing, August 23, 2006; Columbia University expansion ULURP hearing, August 15, 2007; Willets Point redevelopment, tomorrow) is just a coincidence? Or might they be timed to many people's summer vacations? Either way, the triple-billing is a creative new twist.

Posted by eric at 11:48 AM

August 11, 2008

Walk with NYC planner Amanda Burden as she rezones the lower East Side

NY Daily News
By Jason Sheftell

AmandaBurden-NYDN.jpg This tour of the Lower Eastside with City Planning Commish Amanda Burden was brought to you by the letters C, R, I, N, G, & E.

"This wasn't here two weeks ago," Burden says, sneering at a vacant lot. "There was a building. Once you lose a building, you lose character and history. The Bloomberg administration is about growth and preservation. This is why we have to act fast to change the zoning, so developers aren't allowed to come in here and build whatever they chose. I don't mind a building that is in context with the others, meaning the same height with architectural guidelines, but small streets shouldn't have large development."


NoLandGrab: Based upon Burden's running commentary about her vision for the Lower Eastside, you have to believe that she understands that NYC Planning's support to Bruce Ratner's out-of-context, historic-building-demolishing, neighborhood-clearing, state-sponsored, arena and high-rise Atlantic Yards megaproject is akin to delivering John the Baptist's head on a platter.

Posted by lumi at 4:32 AM

August 2, 2008

Report suggests solutions for small businesses after the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning


Atlantic Yards Report

On July 24, I wrote about the unanticipated impacts of the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning and wondered what policy changes might emerge. A new report, Out of Business: The Crisis of Small Businesses in Rezoned Downtown Brooklyn, from FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality) and the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center cites extensive displacement of small business (mainly run by immigrants) and suggests four policy solutions, including grants and reserved commercial space.


Posted by amy at 10:36 AM

July 26, 2008

Burden: The Bloomberg Administration "committed to preserving neighborhood character"

The City Council has fixed arcane zoning laws, now protecting Carroll Gardens from overdevelopment. Bravo.

But in the Times's coverage of the Council vote, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden offered this whopper:

New Limits on Builders in an Area of Brooklyn

...Ms. Burden said the change in the Carroll Gardens zoning rules demonstrated the Bloomberg administration’s commitment to preserving neighborhood character.

That's excepting Prospect Heights, West Harlem, Willets Point, Queens West, Coney Island, the Bronx's Macombs Dam Park area, Jamaica, the Lower East Side, Downtown Brooklyn, etc. etc...


Posted by amy at 12:49 PM

July 23, 2008

P’Heights to get protection?

The Brooklyn Paper
by Sarah Portlock


The city is moving toward protecting a wide swatch of Prospect Heights — but the proposed “historic district” would not bar a project that some neighbors think is the biggest destroyer of the area’s history: Atlantic Yards.

Last week, the Landmarks Preservation Commission began the process of designating approximately 12 blocks in Prospect Heights as a historic district that encompasses 870 buildings from the mid 19th- to early 20th-centuries.

The district would stretch from Flatbush to Washington avenues and from Eastern Parkway to Pacific Street — up to, but not including, Bruce Ratner’s $4-billion mega-development.

That inclusion could have saved the neighborhood — if “it had been done in time,” said Candice Carpenter, a lawyer who has worked with the anti-Atlantic Yards group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.

Deciding the boundaries of the proposed historic district is a matter of determining which buildings have a distinct “sense of place” and a coherent streetscape, said Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon.

“The purpose of our agency is how to protect the historic fabric of the city’s neighborhoods, not to stop development,” de Bourbon said, noting that Landmarks primarily looks at architecture, dates of construction, and the streetscape. “It certainly may have been a part of the motivation of people who wanted us to designate the district, but that’s something that we really can’t consider.”


NoLandGrab: OK, let us get this straight. LPC's role is to protect the worthy "historic fabric" of neighborhoods, unless that pesky fabric lies in the path of mega-developments planned by politically connected developers? The politicization of the LPC is obvious, and cries for an agency with more teeth and independence that could actually save architecturally and historically significant buildings like the Ward Bakery and Spaulding Factory from the likes of Bruce Ratner — and Mayor Bloomberg.

Posted by eric at 11:27 AM

What's Made Brooklyn Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)

Reason Online
by Damon W. Root

The libertarian blog picks up on The Times's recent coverage of Brooklyn Brewery's real estate woes.

Sunday's New York Times brought word of the latest twist in the saga of New York's Brooklyn Brewery and its president Steve Hindy, purveyors of various fine beers, including the great Black Chocolate Stout. Back in 1996, Hindy and partner Tom Potter set up shop at a former matzo ball factory in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, then a mostly rundown industrial neighborhood but today a thriving hipster paradise, replete with bars, gourmet shops, and luxury condos. The only problem is that now the brewery can't afford to stay. So Hindy looked to city officials for help.

There's a cautionary tale or two here about getting in bed with city officials and their shady real estate allies, but the worst of it has been Hindy’s support for controversial developer and New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner, the driving force behind the atrocious Atlantic Yards project, a massive boondoggle that, if realized, will produce a taxpayer-subsidized basketball arena for Ratner’s Nets along with various office buildings and luxury complexes that will displace more than 40 business owners and tenants via eminent domain and other measures.

Still, what do you expect from the wolf's lair of New York's corrupt and massively regulated real estate market? As Hindy admitted to the New York Observer last year, "Things like the development at Coney Island and things like Atlantic Yards—that’s what we have to work with, and we have to make the best of it.”


Posted by eric at 9:21 AM

July 22, 2008

At MCNY panel, defending dissent and promoting the better way to develop (not like Atlantic Yards)

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports from a panel discussion last Thursday at the Museum of the City of New York that went a little off-topic.

But the Civic Talk, sponsored by Henry Stern’s New York Civic and titled “What If? Battles Over Development,” was notable for some rhetorical disagreement about the nature of civic opposition and some strong opinions on the right way to develop in New York. And Atlantic Yards came up not as a good example but as something to be avoided.

[Urban Planner Alexander] Garvin then criticized government projects and, apparently, public-private partnerships like those pursued by the ESDC: “And we would stop having this ridiculous argument that we constantly have about the government going to get involved in developing property on its own. I think the government should be not developing real estate. The government should be doing its investing in its infrastructure and its own property. And there is a great deal of it. We do not maintain our streets well. We have collapsed bridges everywhere.”

“And finally this city has begun to do the kind of investment that it did in the 19th century, and that I believe would help deal with a lot of what Al Butzel is talking about," he said. "If we stopped talking about developing Atlantic Yards or developing these things and left private property to the private owners to develop and instead spent our money on the public realm, I think we’d get a lot of work [done].”

That drew significant applause.


Posted by eric at 9:35 AM

July 15, 2008


A City Council bill would require those who use public subsidies to spell out a project's public impact.
by Lauren Victory

With controversy erupting around practically every major new development in New York City – the new Yankee Stadium, Ground Zero and Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards, to name a few – concerned citizens have been looking toward the public review and approval process for a stronger voice. The help they seek may have arrived recently, in the form of the introduction of City Council Bill 801, titled Community Impact Reports.

Aimed at those seeking economic development benefits such as direct project subsidies, low-interest financing, tax benefits, tax-exempt financing, and tax-exempt bonds and grants, the bill would require the developer of each project to submit a comprehensive report to City Council outlining the intended social and economic effects of the project on the surrounding communities. Organizations in contract with the city for the purpose of providing social services, or those that create affordable housing units exclusively, are exempt from the requirement.

“We need to have a way to monitor the benefits that are given to developers,” said Councilman Thomas White Jr., a Queens Democrat who chairs Council's Economic Development Committee. Around the city, such benefits are legion: In fiscal year 2006, the New York City Industrial Development Agency alone granted at least $700 million in tax breaks to individual firms.

Councilman Albert Vann, in consultation with Councilmembers White, Bill de Blasio, Letitia James and others, created the bill to "help us to understand how city funds are being used in communities, to help them directly," according to Vann’s legislative director, Dottie Conway. Introduced June 29, the bill is now being further shaped by feedback and is not yet scheduled for a hearing or a vote.


NoLandGrab: Critics question how effective this legislation might actually be, and some see it as just another spin on City- and State-mandated environmental reviews, which are produced by the developer and always seem to arrive at the same, ain't-this-great outcome.

Posted by eric at 9:39 AM

July 13, 2008

Prospect Heights Historic District Advances


Gowanus Lounge

The creation of a Prospect Heights Historic District is making progress. The Landmarks Preservation Commission will “calendar” the district this Tuesday (7/15), which is the first step in formally creating it. This would lead to a public hearing and a vote on the District on October 28. Per a release from the Municipal Art Soceity, which teamed with the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Corporation to push for the district, the Chair of the PHNDC says: “The Landmarks Commission has obviously recognized the threat posed to the character of one of Brooklyn’s most well-preserved brownstone neighborhoods. The pressure from the Atlantic Yards project and other recent developments are of grave concern to the hundreds of local residents who have written in support of historic designation for Prospect Heights.”


Posted by amy at 4:02 PM

July 12, 2008

The Prospect Heights Historic District moves forward


Atlantic Yards Report

From a press release issued yesterday by the Municipal Art Society:
On Tuesday, July 15 the Landmarks Preservation Commission will “calendar” the Prospect Heights Historic District, the first step toward protecting one of Brooklyn’s finest – and most endangered – historic neighborhoods.
Prospect Heights is rich in historic architecture, with blocks of beautiful Italianate and neo-Grec rowhouses, interspersed with churches, small commercial and apartment buildings. Located just north of Prospect Park, the neighborhood has seen few changes since it was first developed in the late-19th Century. Today it is threatened by the Atlantic Yards project, a proposal by the developer Forest City Ratner to build 16 towers and a sports arena on a 22-acre site adjacent to the neighborhood.
Given that the Municipal Art Society has on previous occasions described the AY site as part of Prospect Heights, I'm going to consider that "adjacent to the neighborhood" line a lapse. My previous reportage on the landmarking effort is here and here.


Posted by amy at 9:12 AM

July 9, 2008

It came from the Blogosphere...

Center Hold, Your Friendly Neighborhood
NYC makes one blogger's list of candidates of Best Planned Cities, with a few caveats, gratis the New York Department of Shitty Planning:

[T]he truth is that New York’s planning department has been heading down hill since the 70’s and 80’s saw development of government housing projects in all 5 boroughs. Schools have attempted to improve by segmenting themselves into smaller, more focused institutions but are facing the same problems their behemoth predecessors endured. And the biggest building project New York has seen in decades, Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project, is an ostensible humanist project at best.

In the wake of this weekend's column by Michael O'Keeffe in the Daily News, two different blogs note that sportswriters seem to have the sharpest eye for political commentary:

Washington Square Park, NY Daily News: “Kiss my grass, Mayor Bloomberg” by Michael O’Keefe

I’m impressed by sports writers. They inject passion and reflect on history in a way that, for the most part, political writers and media covering City Hall don’t. If politics was covered the way sports is, perhaps more people would know what was going on and the world … our City … would be a different place., The Sportswriter Gets it Right

It's interesting that among mainstream New York newspapers, it's often the sports writers who have most pithily summed up the Atlantic Yards and Yankees deals for the corporate welfare exercises they are. As noted below, city columnist Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News deftly skewered the Yankees job promises last week. And then in the Sunday Daily News, sportswriter Michael O'Keeffe followed up with this observation about the state of big-money sports in the City of New York.

Note: Juan Gonzalez covers local issues for the Daily News, not sports.

Posted by lumi at 4:25 AM

June 25, 2008

Chicago, Say No to the Olympics!

Gapers Block
by Ramsin Canon

A warning to Chicagoans to reject the 2016 Olympics includes a reference to the "now-infamous and loathed Atlantic Yards development," and offers up a link to our favorite project watchdog.

There could be a continued dilution of any top-down negotiated "Community Benefits Agreement," as happened in New York City in the now-infamous and loathed Atlantic Yards development, as reported by In These Times' Michael Gauss. In that case, developers sought political cover by enticing a community group (in that case, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN) into a backroom deal that left plenty of room for developer wiggle room.


Posted by eric at 12:18 PM

June 22, 2008

Campaign to Reform the Governance of Atlantic Yards

BrooklynSpeaks via YouTube

June 16th Press Conference at City Hall, NY to launch campaign to reform the governance of Atlantic Yards.


Posted by amy at 10:35 AM

June 19, 2008

10 to lose: Ugly buildings NYC would be better without


by David Freedlander

While Bruce Ratner busily tears down every building he can in the footprint of his Atlantic Yards project, including the landmark-worthy Ward Bakery, amNY thinks he should perhaps be tearing down one of his own.

Each winter, amNewYork devotes a special issue to 10 buildings in New York City that we fear will soon disappear under negligent eye of the city's real estate interests.

Now, with the turning of the seasons and the sun high in the sky, we say enough with gnashing of teeth over this vanishing city. It's time to do a little pruning.

Besides, even the glittering New York City skyline is bound to contain a few clunkers. That's why we asked some of the city's leading architects and critics to put away their pencils and take out their erasers, and tell us which parts of New York the city would be better of without.

6.) Atlantic Center

Rob Lane, Regional Design Programs, Regional Plan Association:
"Seems like the focus should be on buildings and structures that are not just ugly in someone's opinion, but things that detract from, if not destroy, the most essential part of urbanity –— the pedestrian experience. One example is Atlantic Center in Brooklyn. Not only is it an eyesore, it completely detracts from the walkers experience through long empty sidewalks and hallways and absolutely no street life whatsoever."


Photo Gallery [photos 1-12 correspond to the buildings featured in the article]

Posted by eric at 3:30 PM

June 13, 2008

Is the Poor Economy Saving Our Skylines?


The Western World may be losing it's dominance in the neverending skyline wars, but that might not be such a bad thing for American and European city-dwellers. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reports that as the credit crisis is halting ambitious real estate projects in the States, emerging powers such as China, Dubai and Russia are building bigger and crazier skyscrapers than ever.

This skyline boom may be providing these nouveau riche nations with status symbols, but much of the construction is being criticized by architecture experts as environmentally and aesthetically harmful.

Public opinion in many places seems to agree with the experts' contention that modern skyscrapers are ugly. The Spiegel article cites European architects who see a positive side to the poor economy because it will allow the continent to preserve it's "enduring cityscapes."

Similarly in New York, Frank Gehry's $4 billion Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is stalling thank to money troubles, which must be a relief to the area residents who have protested the plan since it's inception. Another major New York landmark, the proposed Freedom Tower, is also way behind schedule, but it's not like those designs have been highly anticipated by the locals.


Posted by eric at 9:33 AM

June 10, 2008

Cities vs Skyscrapers

Market Movers
by Felix Salmon

Condé Nast Portfolio columnist Felix Salmon critiques BusinessWeek's recent proposition that when it comes to architecture, bigger (and newer) is always better.

Many thanks to Matthew for pointing me to an extremely peculiar 3,000-word Business Week feature on global architecture. If you want proof that the teachings of Jane Jacobs have yet to sink in around much of the rest of the world, then all you need to do is read this article, which paints global architectural activity as, in the words of the headline, "The Battle for the World's Skyline".

And it would be very hard indeed to find many New Yorkers who agree with the Business Week article that the scaling-back of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is "a tough blow for New York". (I suspect the authors will have lost most Brooklynites when they describe the area as "an industrial wasteland".)


Posted by lumi at 1:29 PM

The Battle for the World's Skyline

Cities like London and New York don't have the money to keep up with Asia, Russia, and the Persian Gulf. Is the Western urban landscape out of date?

by Ulrike Knöfel, Frank Hornig and Bernhard Zand

From a Western perspective, at least, this is precisely the problem. Economically booming megacities — such as Beijing, Shanghai and Dubai — where extravagant skyscrapers are shooting up all over, mean that cities like New York are beginning to look old and outdated, despite attempts to modernize. In Europe, the eastern part is beginning to look more modern than the western part. Cities like Istanbul and Moscow are more dynamic than London, Paris or Milan.

There have never been this many skyscrapers on the drawing boards, with most of them planned for the world's new boom towns. The West is eying this development with jealousy, all the more intense for its inability to compete. The massive downturn in the American credit market has caused the cancellation or postponement of many major architectural and urban-planning projects.

Yet another of Gehry's urban improvement ventures has run into difficulties. Gehry was commissioned to transform an industrial wasteland in Brooklyn into a mixed-use architectural pearl. The price tag of the Atlantic Yards project — which New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised as a "colossal achievement of one of the world's leading architects" — was $4 billion (€2.6 billion). But demand has been unsatisfactory, and Gehry was forced to reduce the size of the largest tower in the complex. According to the developers, construction of several of the planned buildings will be placed on hold.

It's a tough blow for New York. For real estate aficionados, it remains the "ultimate 24-hour American city," a place that attracts the global elite. But it takes some effort and a constant series of facelifts to keep it that way. Where else but in New York is there so must distaste for any form of inertia?


NoLandGrab: "Damned lawsuits! I bought this overpriced Brooklyn condo because I thought this backwater was going to be more like Istanbul or Moscow."

Posted by lumi at 12:48 PM

June 9, 2008

Manholes - And What They Can Teach Us

The Footprint Gazette

The new blog diagnoses the cause behind the symptom of exploding manhole covers on Dean Street.


Did anyone else hear those manholes exploding up and down Dean St. yesterday? Did you hear what they were trying to tell us? Three manholes did their inaugural summer dances early yesterday evening prompting the fire department to take what must have been one of their shortest drives down to the end of their block. It also prompted the regulars at Freddy's to take the short trip outside to see what all the commotion was about.

I'll tell you what the commotion was all about. The city, the streets of the city, were trying to tell us something. They are ill and they angry. They are upset that on the other end of the block the sewer pipes have been exposed to help expedite the flushing of your tax dollars. Millions of your bucks are heading down that there exposed drain to prep for an arena that stands as an emblem of civic dysfunction. Meanwhile the city's infrastructure requires those dollars to keep things like manhole explosions from halting day to day life.

I don't know if the manholes popping were directly related to the construction blighting up the block, but I do know that the juxtaposition of the two painted a pretty precise painting of why this project stinks.


Posted by eric at 2:27 PM

May 30, 2008

Open space versus parks

Greater Greater Washington

This District of Columbia blog serves up Atlantic Yards as an example of development that is not "good for the area."


The design for Poplar Point seems to do the best with what it has. Making the stadium stimulate activity in the neighborhood depends upon generating foot traffic to and from games rather than simply a lot of car trips to parking next to the stadium. The deck over the 295 freeway is a key piece, connecting the new neighborhood with the old one and the Metro station. The stadium is near the deck and from the drawing, I don't see any surface parking lots.

If the deck doesn't get cut for cost reasons and the stadium can in fact draw more events beyond the 33 professional soccer games a year, this will be good for the area. If the project morphs into something like NYC's Atlantic Yards, where one building after another gets "postponed" and acres of "temporary" surface parking will last for ten years or more, then we'll prove Fisher right. I hope not.


Posted by eric at 10:19 PM

May 22, 2008

At MAS, AY as an example of a neighborhood planning struggle

Atlantic Yards Report

When it comes to discussions of “David vs. Goliath,” the subject of a Municipal Art Society (MAS) Planning Center Forum on May 14, Atlantic Yards is an inevitable subject, though--as I’ll note below--the politics of AY means that more than one set of parties might consider themselves “Davids.”

The panel addressed the issue of “neighborhood planning in the face of large-scale development,” and planner/architect Stuart Pertz, in his introduction, noted that some projects are inherently large, and only work if built on a large scale. “Unfortunately, it often gets out of hand,” he said, suggesting that “Goliath in development has extraordinary leverage, using powerful lawyers, contractors, planners, and unions.” Then again, he said, “there are many Davids.”

MarshallBrownMAS.jpg A fair amount of the discussion revolved around the Atlantic Yards-alternative UNITY Plan.

Architect Marshall Brown (right), a developer of the UNITY plan for the Metropolitian Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard (and beyond), said, with perhaps some retrospective bravado, “Four years ago we realized we needed to have something in place for the probable occurrence of Forest City Ratner’s plans running aground.” He suggested that Atlantic Yards exemplified a “willful ignorance of limits,” including the physical limit of an eight-acre railyard, the legal limit of eminent domain, the democratic limit of ULURP (the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, bypassed in this case for a fast-track state review), and “finally, the all too evident limit of the talents of a single architect.”

He noted that he wasn’t dissing Frank Gehry, just pointing out--as have others, and even Gehry himself--that megaprojects require multiple architects.

Brown suggested that questions of sustainability and the “looming environmental apocalypse” meant that the Bloomberg administration should prioritize quality ahead of quantity: “I’d say it’s a city of limits.”


Lawyer Candace Carponter (right), a co-chair of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), described how the coalition, formed to respond to the Atlantic Yards environmental review, moved from officially agnostic to ultimately oppositional, joining a lawsuit challenging the review, and becoming a supporter of the UNITY plan. She suggested that the combination of a new governor, “detrimental economics,” and the Newark option for the Nets might provide an opening for the UNITY plan--though of course, that remains to be seen.


Posted by eric at 10:45 AM

The Manhattan Borough President stresses land use

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder surfs the web to evaluate how New York City's five borough presidents look at land-use issues.

As noted in the discussion May 14 at the Municipal Art Society, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has advanced ahead of the other borough presidents in stressing the importance of land use issues and in training Community Board members on land use issues.


Follow the link for a look at the different borough home pages.

Posted by eric at 10:43 AM

May 20, 2008

How build big in NYC? Not via the AY example, panelists suggest

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder files an in-depth report on last night's "Can NYC Build BIG Anymore" panel discussion, and offers plenty of reasons why opponents of Atlantic Yards won't miss Empire State Development Corporation President Avi Schick when he leaves at the end of the summer.

What are the right ways to build big projects in a growing city? Although panelists who spoke Monday night didn’t make the point explicitly, the answers they offered--public planning, realistic timetables, public ownership, infrastructure first, and media skepticism toward overhyped renderings--generally point to the opposite of the process behind Atlantic Yards.

The panel, titled Can NYC Build BIG Anymore?, was sponsored by Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century and held at Iguana Restaurant in Midtown. Notably, the acting head of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) also offered a hearty defense of Atlantic Yards, adopting some of developer Forest City Ratner's talking points.

The question, panelists agreed, was not “can” but “how.” “One of the problems we have to confront is that people want to build big too fast,” observed Avi Schick, acting president of the ESDC, which approved and is overseeing Atlantic Yards. “Sometimes they bit off a little too much when they tried to push an entire plan forward at once.”


Posted by eric at 9:09 AM

May 18, 2008

State Development Agency Buffeted by Slowing Economy and Internal Rifts

New York Times

For more than a year, the state’s main economic development agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, has been in disarray, plagued by turf battles, poor management and the political collapse of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, business leaders and state officials say.
A co-chairman of the development corporation, Patrick J. Foye, was one of the first officials to lose his job when Gov. David A. Paterson took over in March. Mr. Paterson has yet to nominate someone to run the agency.

Moreover, the governor has sent conflicting messages, preaching fiscal austerity while suggesting that the state can move forward on a host of costly projects, including the Second Avenue subway, the extension of the No. 7 line, the $14 billion redevelopment of the West Side railyards, the $14 billion Penn Station project and the $4 billion Atlantic Yards basketball arena and residential complex in Brooklyn.

A senior adviser to Mr. Paterson rejected the idea that the administration had sent mixed messages, saying the governor would not commit to projects that the state cannot afford. The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, also said the administration planned to release plans for revamping the agency. As part of that overhaul, Mr. Paterson will eliminate one of Mr. Spitzer’s more contentious innovations: dividing the corporation’s leadership into downstate and upstate leaders.


Posted by amy at 9:39 AM

May 9, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities, Only One With Sewers

The New York Times
by Susan Dominus

When Gordhandas Soni, the owner of an Indian food company, agreed to relocate his warehouse and factory to Willets Point, Queens, back in 1990, it never occurred to him to ask about some of the more basic amenities — the sewage system, for example. “You never ask, ‘You have sewers here?’ ” said Mr. Soni, whose business is called House of Spices. “In America, right here, in the heart of New York City? No! It never occurred to me to ask. It would be silly to ask.”

Now Mr. Soni has banded together with 11 other businesses in Willets Point, filing a suit charging that the city has neglected to repair potholes and provide basic services like sewers and snow plowing, in an effort to devalue the property and ease the path to redevelopment.

Put in the sewers, and fix the potholes, he and his allies contend, and Willets Point will redevelop itself. The city, in reply, concedes that might be true — but because the area is on a flood plain, the city couldn’t provide sewers without removing the businesses, creating an unfortunate but intractable chicken-and-egg situation.

Even if the city could make him whole, Mr. Soni wonders, why shouldn’t he get some additional compensation for the inconvenience of losing his property? As he put it, why should the city “take away from the small guy like me and give to a billion dollar company just so he can make another billion dollars?”

Although it’s never easy for American manufacturers to compete with their counterparts in India — especially when it comes to something like an Indian food product — Mr. Soni says that he would be thrilled with his prospects were it not for this major uncertainty hanging over his head, and the threat that the city could invoke eminent domain to take the property.

“I always thought India would be my competition, that India would run me out of business,” he said, watching a machine fill jars with a dark, rich tamarind paste. “I didn’t think it would be New York City.”


Posted by eric at 12:45 PM

May 8, 2008

When will Olin's new open space designs be released? (Soon)

Atlantic Yards Reports

Norman Oder wonders when we might get new renderings from Atlantic Yards landscape architect Laurie Olin.

First Frank Gehry's new designs, then more from Laurie Olin? That sounds like developer Forest City Ratner's new Atlantic Yards strategy.

As I pointed out Tuesday, Olin's somewhat stale designs, curiously enough, remain in the Atlantic Yards Image Gallery.

However, as Gehry's new graphics suggest, the Urban Room would be quite different. Thus Olin's designs surely will be updated--but when?


Posted by eric at 8:49 AM

Lotsa "Atlantic Lots"

StreetsBlog, Atlantic Yards or Atlantic Lots?

With development projects across the city threatened by an uncertain economy, critics of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project believe that a slowdown in construction could burden Prospect Heights with decades of blight. A slide show by the Municipal Art Society, called "Atlantic Yards or Atlantic Lots?," offers a bleak look into the future, like this rendering of neighborhood blocks destroyed for "temporary" surface lots that would accommodate some 1,400 cars.

MAS is calling on Governor David Paterson to suspend demolition in order to prepare an interim development plan, and has a link to a web form through which members of the public can contact Paterson directly.

The Campaign for Community-Based Planning, Atlantic Yards = Atlantic Lots?

Following up on this weekend’s Call Time-Out on Atlantic Yards rally, the Municipal Art Society has released renderings of what the area might look like as demolitions continue and only a small piece of the proposed project is actually built. Visit for a slide show.

Posted by lumi at 5:42 AM

April 30, 2008

Olympic Landscape

The NY Sun
By James Gardner

BeijingAquaticsCentre.jpg Congratulations Bruce Ratner, your Atlantic Yards plan is now on the short list of controversial projects in NYC:

When it comes to dreaming up grand architectural visions, repressive authoritarian regimes are clearly the way to go. There are none of those nettlesome obstructions that beset the urban planners of New York City: community boards and concerned citizens, good-government types and the dithering dysfunctionality of a score of agencies. Well known to all are the hurdles that developers and architects have encountered recently at ground zero and the Atlantic Yards, the acrimony that has beset Columbia University's West Harlem expansion, not to mention the travails of Londoners over furnishing Heathrow with one lousy little new runway.

Meanwhile, in less time than it takes for New Yorkers to draw up a committee to decide whether to vote on drawing up a committee, the city of Beijing has reinvented itself in anticipation of this August's Olympic Games. Whole neighborhoods have been gleefully wiped out in order to build the Beijing CBD, or Central Business District, situated between the capital's 3rd and 4th Ring Roads and now the site of CCTV headquarters, designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

Despite the social consequences, Beijing appears to be one NYC architecture critic's wet dream:

Taken together, the new architecture of Beijing is a partial and mitigated success, whatever its social benefit or harm. But however many eggs had to be broken to make this particular omelet, New Yorkers can only look on in envy and amazement at the boldness, the size, and the inventiveness of these new designs, which would never have stood a chance in Gotham.


NoLandGrab: Mayor Bloomberg would probably give his right arm to do away with the pesky Community Boards, heck, even skip the City Council, in order to "streamline" the city planning process. Imagine how many neighborhoods and blocks the city could have plowed and resown if the city had been awarded the 2012 Olympic games.

Posted by lumi at 4:58 AM

April 25, 2008

Arena subway access without the Urban Room? ESDC says it's OK

Atlantic Yards Report

The "Urban Room" at Atlantic Yards (aka, "atrium") is billed as a multipurpose, glass-enclosed retail gallery, public space, ticket window, subway entrance, and the largest stoop in Brooklyn, and has been lauded and sold as a "significant public amenity," "a soaring Piranesian space," "a prominent feature of the pedestrian experience," and "its own destination." Yet without the signature tower — fancifully dubbed "Miss Brooklyn" — might developer Bruce Ratner deliver an "Urban Shed?"

Norman Oder sifts through the few documents that have been made public, and it looks like the only requirement is that Ratner "provide reasonable assurances... that the new subway station access that will adjoin the Arena will be completed and operational at the time the Arena is opened for operation."

Oder concludes:

Without Miss Brooklyn, it looks like there's no room for the Urban Room.


Posted by lumi at 4:26 AM

April 22, 2008

Will Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 survive his mayoralty? Should it?

Atlantic Yards Report

Many people concerned about planning and development issues were heartened by Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s announcement last year of PlaNYC 2030, observed Eve Baron, director of the Municipal Art Society (MAS) Planning Center. However, as she said introducing a forum titled “PlaNYC2030 Post-Bloomberg” on April 14, many people think important issues were left out--and the panel discussion bore that out.


Posted by lumi at 5:19 AM

April 17, 2008

Atlantic Yards Subsidies Might Total $2 Billion

Runnin' Scared [The Village Voice]
By Duncan Meisel

The Voice's daily blog published a recent-news wrap for Atlantic Yards, covering subsidies, more subsidies and architecture critic Diana Lind's scathing takedown of Bruce Ratner's controversial megaproject.


Posted by lumi at 4:34 AM

April 16, 2008

Answers About Brooklyn Architecture

City Room (The New York Times Blog)

Diana Lind, author of "Brooklyn Modern: Architecture, Interiors & Design," answers questions from readers. She most definitely has not drunk The Times's Kool-Aid when it comes to Atlantic Yards.

Q: Speaking of Atlantic Yards, what does Ms. Lind think of this megadevelopment, and its potential effects on Brooklyn life?

— Posted by matt

A: Living in Fort Greene half a block from Atlantic Avenue, I’ve thought a lot about the Atlantic Yards project and its potential impact on life in Brooklyn. Certainly the site merits some kind of development, but I’m opposed to the Ratner plan as it stands now for a few reasons. I take umbrage at the project’s vast, uninterrupted scale; its street closings; its miserable sense of public space (when was the last time you threw a Frisbee on a private building’s lawn?); and most recently, revelations of its more than $2 billion worth of tax write-offs and subsidies from the government, according to the New York Post. Though the project has promoted the fact that it’s going to create jobs and housing, the scheme of using public money to finance this endeavor sounds like robbing Peter and Paul to pay Mary (sorry, the pope’s coming to town).

But I also have aesthetic qualms with the project. I don’t think any one architect should be in charge of designing 22 acres of any city. In a March 21 article by the New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, the project’s uncertain status is lamented. Mr. Ourousoff points to the importance of great planning projects like Rockefeller Center (roughly the same size as Atlantic Yards). But Rockefeller Center was developed by a team of architects; Atlantic Yards will not be. Gehry is good at what he does, and as others have noted his voluptuous style would nicely contrast with the phallic bank building, but more than seven million square feet of his outlandish style (of any architect’s style) starts to look pretty tacky and boring, no matter the context.

So, if the project goes ahead as it’s planned now, how this will affect life in Brooklyn? A lot. Irreversibly. It will complete Brooklyn’s transformation from a post-industrial residential borough to a city unto itself and will extend Downtown Brooklyn to Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and Boerum Hill.

Spending time in Brooklyn now, one senses the borough’s promise and mutability. When and if Atlantic Yards is completed, I think many people will feel an enormous opportunity was lost on a not particularly innovative project. If I were in charge of the development site, I’d scrap the plan, build a platform over the railyards, and auction off small parcels of the site to varied developers, cultural organizations and schools. The diversity of approaches to the parcels would mimic the city’s naturally haphazard development process and allow for more community involvement.


NoLandGrab: Better hurry up and take a screen shot of this piece, since we don't think we'll be seeing such unvarnished criticism of Atlantic Yards in the pages of the Times's print edition any time soon.

Atlantic Yards Report, Answers About Brooklyn Architecture, criticism of AY

Norman Oder must must have been rendered speechless, since he posted the passage we cited above sans comment.

Posted by eric at 12:21 PM

April 15, 2008

West Side plans in disarray; what about AY?

Atlantic Yards Report

An article in The New York Times prompts Norman Oder to compare the Atlantic Yards fiasco to the Hudson Yards disarray:

Yesterday, in an article headlined West Side Redevelopment Plans in Disarray, the New York Times described a harsh reality that has some interesting echoes in Brooklyn:

Because of the economic downturn, logistical problems and, critics say, design flaws, the expansion of the Javits Center has died, the plan to rebuild Penn Station and the area around it is in jeopardy and there are deep questions about financing, public and private, to extend the subway or build over the railyards. ...But many urban planners, architects, community leaders and developers say the downturn may have a silver lining, providing an opportunity for the city to rethink and reconfigure sweeping proposals many of them had doubts about all along.

The article didn't mention Atlantic Yards, but there are some comparisons and contrasts worth considering.

The full article briefly examines the developer selection process, increased density around transit hubs, public costs and the Regional Plan Association's position.

Posted by lumi at 5:32 AM

April 10, 2008

Willets Point property owners sue city

NY Daily News
by Jess Wisloski

Long-time NoLandGrab readers will remember Jess Wisloski, who cut her teeth covering the Atlantic Yards land grab and is now on the Willets Point beat.

Willets Point property owners filed a lawsuit against the city Wednesday, charging it has deliberately denied the area basic city services to grease the skids for condemnation.

About 150 business owners and their supporters gathered on the steps of City Hall to announce the federal case and to protest the city's plans to redevelop the gritty 60-acre industrial swath known as the Iron Triangle.

Eight City Council members backed the protesters Wednesday and denounced the city's negotiating tactics, which the business owners said have been in bad faith.

Mayoral hopeful Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who heads the Council's zoning committee, said he would refuse to approve any plans that would invoke eminent domain to develop something on the site other than a "good public purpose," such as a school or a highway.

"It is a completely different thing to take it and give it to another private individual, a developer, who will then turn around and make millions of dollars," Avella said. "We're here today to say, 'No.' Go back to the drawing board, Mr. Mayor."


More coverage:

The New York Times, Businesses in Potholed, Sewerless Queens District Sue the City

“Some of the photos you see behind me — you see floods, you wonder if this is New York City in 2008 or Baghdad after a few mortar rounds,” said Councilman Hiram Monserrate of Queens, whose district includes the area.

Councilman Eric N. Gioia, also of Queens, said the threat of eminent domain, even as a last resort, was “like walking into a negotiation, putting a gun on the table, and saying, ‘I’d like to strike a fair deal; I’ll only use the gun if I have to.’”

Newsday, Willets Point businesses sue over mayor's plan

Queens Times Ledger, Willets Pt. biz group to sue for infrastructure upgrades, Willets Point Locals Sue City Over Neglect

At a City Hall rally yesterday, Anthony Fodera, president of Fodera Foods Inc., told the Times that he’s “been there for 35 years; I have yet to see them fill a pothole.”

The Queens Courier, Willets Point businesses sue city

NY1, Ten Willets Point Landowners Sue The City

"This is our property," said Feinstein Ironworks Owner Dan Feinstein. "It's been in our family for generations. This is our legacy to our children and our grandchildren, and we're not going to allow this administration to steal it from us."

Posted by eric at 3:15 PM

April 9, 2008

Willets Point protesters sue to block $3B city plan

Protesters say the city hasn't t provided sewers, sidewalks, paved roads or storm drains for the last 40 years. New development is like throwing out the baby before changing the bathwater.

Crain's NY Business
by Hilary Potkewitz

Willets Point property owners have filed a federal eminent domain suit against New York City in an effort to keep their businesses from falling prey to "redevelopment."

A group of businesses facing eviction by the city from their homes in Willets Point, Queens filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York and several public officials Wednesday. It is the companies’ latest effort to forestall plans for a city-backed $3 billion mixed-use project on their land.

The case, filed in the Eastern District federal court, seeks to force the city to provide sanitary sewers, sidewalks, paved roads and storm drains in a commercial area that has had none for more than 40 years. The suit also seeks unspecified damages, charging city officials with a “waging a campaign of intentional neglect to create and perpetuate an eyesore for eventual justification of the use of eminent domain,” according to the filing.

The businesses say they’ve been thrown out with the bathwater.

“The city has intentionally driven down the value of these properties by withholding services,” says Michael Gerrard, a partner in the environmental law practice at Arnold & Porter, which is representing the business owners. “It is impermissible for the city to try and take advantage of that [lack of services] to acquire properties at fire-sale prices.”


NoLandGrab: While a spokesperson for the City's Economic Development Corporation called the area "blighted and seriously contaminated," she didn't comment on the City's failure to provide the neighborhood with sewers, sidewalks, paved roads or storm drains for the past 40 years. But now that fancy new Citi Field is set to open across the street next April, the area's problems need to be addressed — through eminent domain, if necessary (but only, of course, as a last resort).

Posted by eric at 5:09 PM

April 3, 2008

LETTER: How to Build a City

The NY Times, Letter to the Editor

To the editor:

Re “Profit and Public Good Clash in Grand Plans” (Architecture column, March 27):

Nicolai Ouroussoff comes to the right conclusion: When you are trying to build a city, it’s about championing the public good, not counting beans.

But by bemoaning the quality of the proposed buildings and the watering down of Frank Gehry’s work for the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, he adds to the confusion about the difference between building a city and treating big chunks of the city as if they were architectural design problems.

The fact is that great cities do not rely on cutting-edge architecture. They rely on a clear framework of streets and open spaces, designed by and for the public, that over time can support the full spectrum of architecture, from the pedestrian to the heroic.

Indeed, how many heroic buildings can you have in one place before none of them are?

Robert Lane
Director of Design
Regional Plan Association

Posted by lumi at 4:35 AM

March 31, 2008

The Community Boards face cuts, but the system needs a boost

Atlantic Yards Report

It was a relatively small article on page 5 of the City section of the New York Times, sandwiched in between pieces on the closing of a beloved laundry in Cobble Hill and after-school life at a coffee/tea/spice shop in Park Slope, but it touched on a very important issue: New Yorkers have way too few resources to pursue democracy at the neighborhood level. What it didn't explain is why the Community Board (CB) system needs reform, and may well become an issue in the next mayoral race.

The article, headlined Not Quite Passing the Hat, but Already Feeling the Pain, concerns cuts of 5%-8% at the CBs, which may not sound like much, but cut into already limited resources.

City Council Member Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, lamented that CBs often don't have the resources to be proactive, to say "This alternative works." The Atlas is an attempt to change that, to show what community planners have been doing.

Support from the Borough President and others, Brewer said, can be key to empowering the CBs. Most don't have the staff to keep up with all the changes in their community and put all documents online. "Maybe Craig Hammerman"--District Manager of Brooklyn CB 6, which has an extensive web site--"because he's a nut," Brewer said affectionately, but few others manage similarly.


NoLandGrab: Brooklyn CB 6 — largely thanks to the tireless Hammerman — has long advocated for a much greater community role in the Atlantic Yards project.

Posted by eric at 3:28 PM

March 29, 2008

Meet Avi Schick, New York's New Steamroller


The New York Observer
Eliot Brown

A longtime attorney, today he sits as president and acting CEO of New York State’s powerful development agency, with control over numerous multibillion-dollar projects such as the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Station, the Javits Center expansion and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. With a new administration in Albany and the top position vacant following the recent resignation of the Empire State Development Corporation’s co-chairman, Patrick Foye, a well-connected Mr. Schick is pushing to make his temporary role at the agency’s top a permanent one, according to people with knowledge of his plans.
A physically imposing Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, Mr. Schick is cordial and warm in casual conversation, noticeably fidgeting his legs as he sits and talks with a confidence about his work. The posts of LMDC chairman and ESDC president, which also includes overseeing the $4 billion-plus Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn and the possible use of eminent domain for Columbia University’s West Harlem expansion, keep him tied to his work, so much so that he has said he’s added a visible set of gray hairs to his previously jet-black beard.

Schick has already earned the love of both Sheldon Silver and Bruce Ratner:

The developers of Atlantic Yards, Forest City Ratner, also give high marks to Mr. Schick, with CEO Bruce Ratner praising him for his intelligence and competence.

“He’s got a combination of legal ability, leadership and also being able to pull together both lawyers, agencies and the private sector,” Mr. Ratner said. “Compared to other people I’ve worked with in government, he’s on the very, very top.”


Posted by amy at 11:05 AM

March 28, 2008

As Builders’ Grand Visions Dissolve, So Does Our Faith

NY Times columnist Clyde Haberman takes a sideswipe at Atlantic Yards in today's column about grand urban development plans and promises broken (emphasis added):

On other fronts, plans to expand the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center were hurled into limbo by the administration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer. (Remember him?) Have you noticed proposals for a new Pennsylvania Station going anywhere? Much of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn now seems about to be put on hold — not that everyone will mourn.

For the ne plus ultra of development delays, we have only three words for you: World, Trade and Center.

Posted by lumi at 6:45 AM

Visions of parking lots at stalled Atlantic Yards site

By Amy Zimmer

If you're wondering why Bruce Ratner has been taking down every building he possibly can in the footprint of his stalled Atlantic Yards plan, there's only one answer... PARKING.

What’s next for Atlantic Yards? How about a giant parking lot?

At least, that’s what some Brooklynites fear is coming in light of developer Bruce Ratner’s announcement that the recessionary climate has stalled parts of the $4 billion project.

“He’s demolished a number of buildings,” said Tish James, the area’s City Councilwoman and a vocal critic of the project, at a recent City Hall hearing on congestion pricing. “I don’t want those lots to be turned into parking lots.”

Ratner has said construction on the 18,000-seat arena was scheduled to begin by yearend, but other parts of the project’s first phase — housing, retail and an office tower dubbed “Miss Brooklyn” — are on hold.

Some have already predicted that if congestion pricing becomes a reality, a boom in parking lots and garages will soon follow in easy-access portions of the outer boroughs.

James said she is worried about the parking-lot scenario at Atlantic Yards because “it’s a revenue generator and right now [land is] sitting fallow.”

A Ratner rep insisted the land would not be turned into parking lots.


NoLandGrab: Don't count on un-named Ratner reps to all of the sudden start telling the truth.

Ratner has already revealed that he plans to use cleared land as a "temporary surface parking lot." Only the definition of "temporary" is unclear.

The graphic above shows what Norman Oder calls "Phase 0," in July 2006:

Note that there's no official rendering of what might be called phase zero, which would show the entire site east of Sixth Avenue as either surface parking, staging, or railyards. Phase zero would persist during the construction of the first stage, over four years.

We now know that "four years" could actually be more than a decade.

Posted by lumi at 6:28 AM

A Bright Future for Brooklyn

The NY Times, Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Re “What Will be Left of Gehry’s Vision for Brooklyn?,” by Nicolai Ouroussoff (Architecture, Weekend Arts, March 21):

The cancellation of Atlantic Yards would not be a “painful setback for urban planning” but a victory for Brooklyn and for responsible future development. Mr. Ouroussoff’s grand architectural visions for the Manhattanization of Brooklyn leaves out the effects on individuals.

Dozens of residents have been evicted because of Atlantic Yards, and the project would do further harm:

  • The “Brooklyn Bride” would cast a permanent shadow over the surrounding area.

  • The Nets Stadium would cause impossible traffic congestion.

  • Public streets would be closed for what would be a luxury development.

  • There would only be minimal affordable housing (Bruce Ratner has continually backed off from his initial promise).

A coalition of Brooklyn organizations has come up with a Unity Plan, to provide for the improvement of Brooklyn homes and services. The possibility finally looks brighter for that.

Reva Cooper
Brooklyn, March 21, 2008

Posted by lumi at 6:21 AM

UNITY Plan on Display on Atlantic Avenue

UNITYModel.jpg By way of (Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn):

The UNITY Plan architectural model is on display in the windows of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association (ABBA) at 321 Atlantic Avenue between Smith and Hoyt Streets in Brooklyn. The public is encouraged to come take a look and spread the word.

The UNITY Plan is a community development plan and process for developing the Vanderbilt rail yards, a sensible alternative to Forest City Ratner's failing Atlantic Yards proposal.

Posted by lumi at 4:28 AM

March 27, 2008

Profit and Public Good Clash in Grand Plans

The NY Times
By Nicolai Ouroussoff

Congratulations Bruce Ratner, your Atlantic Yards overdevelopment is officially a "FIASCO!"

According to the NY Times's architecture critic, in a piece about government-sponsored megaprojects in NYC (emphasis added):

The bitter battles over reconstruction plans for ground zero. The unraveling of the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. And now this.

Given current economic realities, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s selection on Wednesday of a team led by Tishman Speyer to develop the West Side railyards seems like a wishful fantasy. Yet even if the project takes decades to realize, it is a damning indictment of large-scale development in New York.

Like the ground zero and Atlantic Yards fiascos, its overblown scale and reliance on tired urban planning formulas should force a serious reappraisal of the public-private partnerships that shape development in the city today.

Nicolai Ouroussoff continues by trashing Tishman-Speyer's development plan for Hudson Yards, before getting in another another dig on Atlantic Yards:

In the Atlantic Yards project, Forest City Ratner acknowledged last week that it would delay building most of the elements of Frank Gehry’s design for that eight million-square-foot development because it is short of financing. If built, the project would be a pathetic distortion of the original design. And the developer already has city approval.


NoLandGrab: One misunderstanding on Nicky O's part is that Bruce Ratner's controversial project never had "city approval." Atlantic Yards is a STATE PROJECT, which includes all sorts of overrides of local zoning restrictions and is why the building of an arena was approved just across the street from people's houses (think looking out your bedroom window and seeing an arena).

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, The Fall of Plan: AY Goes From Eden to Fiasco

Ouroussoff's predecessor, the late Herbert Muschamp, had originally and infamously called Atlantic Yards a "garden of Eden." Oh how the grossly out-of-scale, financially infeasible, promotionally overblown have fallen.

Atlantic Yards Report, Ouroussoff: AY a "fiasco" with "city approval"

Wouldn't you know it, Norman Oder already tried to save the hardworking editors at The Times from themselves:

Actually, the developer already has government approval, but the city has nothing to do with it. The Empire State Development Corporation approved the project. I sent in a correction on Saturday after Ouroussoff made the same mistake in his essay on AY last Friday.

The Times didn't address the correction yet. But the distinction remains important; had the project gone through the city approval process, there would have been more public oversight and discussion.

NoLandGrab: Seriously, the sporting thing would be for The Times to correct the errors that keep getting repeated in the "Paper of Record" and reply, "Thanks for watching our backs, Norman!"

Posted by lumi at 5:30 AM

March 20, 2008

Planner Burden on balanced growth, community consultation, and "esthetic democracy" (in Brooklyn)

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder parses a two-year-old CUNY-TV interview with City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden in an attempt to understand how she looks at rezonings. This passage tells us just about all we need to know.

Burden: That's the thing. Any rezoning, to get it passed or done, has got to pass community boards and elected officials. So we have to build consensus. And the only way you can do that is by really showing people visually what they're going to get, and bringing in the stakeholders and getting them to feel invested in the plan. For instance, in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, here you had two miles of waterfront, it was fenced off, inacessible, derelict for decades. So to really get the community to not only understand the zoning that we were proposing, but to buy into that, we took the committee for open space of the community board there around to all waterfront parks in the city, and they chose the benches and the lights and the paving and the railing that's going to be on their waterfront. So this is really a plan that is created by the community. Otherwise we would have never have gotten it passed.


NoLandGrab: Oh, goody, the Community Board committee members appointed by the Borough President and Council Members get to pick the trim, while developers turn brownstones and warehouses into 30-story luxury condos. We love consensus!

The irony though, is that such meaningless input would be a welcome upgrade to the absence of a community role in shaping Atlantic Yards.

Posted by eric at 10:06 AM

March 12, 2008

How an omission in the LEED formula helped FCR and doomed the Ward Bakery

Atlantic Yards Report


So it's not just critics with hindsight who think LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which aims to produce "green buildings" by assigning points scants the value of preserving existing buildings such as the Ward Bakery and their "embodied energy," the energy that went into building materials and construction.

It's a developer of LEED himself. "I happened to be on a retreat with a founder of LEED," commented planner John Shapiro at the annual conference of the Historic Districts Council last Saturday. The founder, Shapiro said, explained that a committee of the U.S. Green Buildings Council "intentionally downplayed historic preservation, because if they put it in the formula [for LEED], it would blow everything away and architects would ignore it."

Had the cost and value of embodied energy been factored in, it might have changed the equation the Empire State Development Corporation calculated when it asserted that the cost of development at the Ward Bakery site would be an additional $30 per square foot.


Posted by lumi at 5:34 AM

When it comes to PlaNYC 2030, AY is still the elephant in the room

Atlantic Yards Report

Remember how Atlantic Yards was the elephant in the room when Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 was presented last April, given that it went conspicuously unmentioned in the housing chapter?


Well, city officials discussing the sustainability plan keep offering rhetoric counter to the sequence behind Atlantic Yards. The issue came up at the annual conference Saturday of the Historic Districts Council, with keynote speaker Rohit Aggarwala, who directs the Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability.

The plan initially was to address population growth and land use, but quickly grew. “[We began] what we thought was going to be a strategic land use plan," Aggarwala said, "but we quickly realized: you can’t think about land use in a city without thinking about transportation. And you can’t think about transportation without thinking about air quality.”

The chain connects to energy, water, and climate change. “If we solve one problem the wrong way, it’ll set us back on the others,” he said.

Of course, Atlantic Yards was approved by the state without any transportation improvements beyond game-day tweaks, and even supporters think congestion relief is necessary for the an arena to have a chance at the site.


NoLandGrab: HA! Aggarwala appeared at the Park Slope Civic Council's forum on sustainability last Thursday, and gave the EXACT same spiel. His comments spurred a handful of questions on Atlantic Yards, as several attendees were eager to call the Bloomberg administration on its hypocrisy, but the moderator (a known coward) gave Aggarwala a pass on the issue, contending that the forum was supposed to focus on "how to, not how not to."

PlaNYC's map for future residential growth
Norman Oder shares a map that he hadn't seen before. Have you?

Posted by lumi at 5:10 AM

March 8, 2008

Academic: public-private partnerships in NY are one-sided

Atlantic Yards Report

A pointed analysis of one-sided development deals from Thursday's New York Times might have led some people to think about Atlantic Yards:
“Public-private partnerships are now one-sided arrangements in which the public actors no longer plan public spaces in the public interest,” said Elliott Sclar, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University. “Instead they facilitate private-sector developments of these spaces in exchange for slight public amenities. In this case, the public gets the chance to catch a train in the basement of a vertical shopping mall.”
Are the Atlantic Yards benefits "slight public amenities"? The courts haven't had to decide. Rather, as U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis wrote in his decision last June dismissing the Atlantic Yards eminent domain challenge, "This case simply does not require the court to consider whether the Project is a good idea.. the issue before this court is whether the taking of Plaintiffs’ properties is rationally related to a conceivable public use."

The Empire State Development Corporation commented, "We are pleased by the decision, which reaffirms the Atlantic Yards project's many public benefits: affordable housing, a world-class sports venue, improved transportation and increased economic activity."

Well, the affordable housing is delayed, the sports venue would be, an appeals court acknowledged, "generously leased," the improved transportation would include a new subway entrance under a shopping venue, the "urban room," and increased economic activity would be offset to a significant (though never fully calculated) degree by subsidies and public costs.


Posted by amy at 10:06 AM

March 6, 2008

DDDB to get preservation award from HDC, but Ward Bakery demolition continues

Atlantic Yards Report


From the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn newsletter:

The Historic Districts Council (HDC) will be awarding Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn their Grassroots Preservation Award for our "ongoing efforts to stop the Atlantic Yards project." There will be a ceremony in May. We thank the HDC for acknowledging and honoring our ongoing work.

HDC gives several Grassroots Preservation Awards, often to groups that, unlike DDDB, have succeeded in their preservation mission. Last year's winners included the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association, the Crown Heights North Association, the East Village Community Coalition, and the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, all of which had achieved preservation progress.

DDDB and allies have succeeded in raising consciousness about valuable buildings within the Atlantic Yards footprint and the general importance of responsible development, but it has not succeeded in blocking the ongoing demolition of the Ward Bakery, though Forest City Ratner and parent Forest City Enterprises have certainly practiced historic preservation elsewhere. Tracy Collins's photo shows the smokestack coming down.

Norman Oder notes that one building isn't coming down, yet:

If Forest City Ratner is in such a hurry to build the Atlantic Yards Arena, why hasn't the developer started to demolish the Spalding Building, which, unlike the Ward Bakery, actually would be within the arena footprint?

Maybe because it was already renovated into condos, and should the project be scotched, the apartments could easily be marketed.


Posted by lumi at 5:30 AM

March 4, 2008

UNITY workshop begins to address the whole AY footprint

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports from this Saturday's UNITY planning workshop:


Is it realistic to consider another future for the planned Atlantic Yards footprint, one based on the principles of the UNITY plan unveiled last September? That was the premise of a workshop Saturday organized by the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, along with the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN).

And while the four-hour session didn’t produce definitive solutions, it did for the first time extend beyond the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard, the major public property in the AY site, to the rest of the footprint, now owned mostly by developer Forest City Ratner. In other words, the project, launched in 2004 as Understanding, Imagining and Transforming the Yards (UNITY), might need a revised acronym.

About 40 people attended the event, held at the Belarusian Church on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. Their conclusions were not particularly surprising: development should be contextual; major current buildings should be preserved; space for industry/manufacturing should be maintained; and new public space should be created. (Space for affordable housing was already part of the plan.)

Needless to say, an arena was not on the table, and any new plans would ultimately have to be measured against the costs of development. And the Ward Bakery, a building participants would like to save, is currently under demolition.


Posted by lumi at 5:35 AM

March 3, 2008


Brit (back) in Brooklyn posted this image from last Saturday's workshop for the community-supported UNITY plan.


Posted by lumi at 5:14 AM

February 29, 2008

TOMORROW: Workshop: Rezoning the Atlantic Yards Footprint

From StreetsBlog:

The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods is sponsoring a workshop by the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development to further the community based planning process for the area around the Vanderbilt rail yards. The area is currently proposed to house the Atlantic Yards development but with the global credit crisis there is a very strong possibility that project will never happen. Community members and elected officials will participate.


March 1, 2008 10:00 am - 2:00 pm


St. Cyril’s Belarusian Cathedral
401 Atlantic Av. (at Bond St.)


Hunter College CCPD 212-650-3328 or ccpd @ hunter . cuny . edu

Posted by lumi at 5:15 AM

February 28, 2008

The UNITY plan expands, and will be up for discussion

Atlantic Yards Report

The UNITY plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard was unveiled in September, the project web site was re-launched in mid-January, and there's a public meeting Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., to update people and seek further input on UNITY.

The discussion will broaden to more of the Atlantic Yards footprint rather than just the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard.

What's clear is that two very different visions have emerged. While the UNITY plan would add significant residential density (1500 units over eight acres would be 187.5 units/acre, compared to 6430 units over 22 acres, or 292 units/acre), it would concentrate the tallest buildings at the east end of the site, near Vanderbilt Avenue.

It would place a park at the congested intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, while Forest City Ratner's plan would have an Urban Room, which will serve as a subway entrance and an entrance to the arena and arena block buildings, while housing an atrium, retail, and Nets ticket windows.


NoLandGrab: Click here for more info regarding Saturday's workshop.

Posted by eric at 9:35 AM

February 27, 2008

The Eagle Pimps Out (Makes Better) City Projects

Brooklyn Daily Eagle reporter Sarah Ryley comes up with a new-n-improved Atlantic Yards project:

Bored by the debate between advocates of superblocks and Jane Jacobian traditionalists, who prefer the old-school street grids, the delay in the Atlantic Yards project would be used as an opportunity to marry the two concepts. Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues would still be demapped, but the seven high-rises would be adjusted back to the traditional street grid lined with storefronts on both sides, the glittering glass towers creating a monumental archway leading into a park. Cobblestone streets off-limits to cars, dotted by fountain-side seating, would bisect the massive block, creating an effect similar to what Union Square would look like if its bordering streets were turned to promenades. Restaurants would be nestled into the curves of the buildings to accommodate outdoor seating, and retailers would be a mix of national and local boutiques. Landscaping for the park would be a mixture of hardtop to accommodate Saturday farmer’s markets and basketball games, and grassy lawns. A giant glass cube would float 20 feet high in the center, accessible by elevator, containing Mac’s newest flagship store.

Developer Forest City Ratner would make a fortune off retail rents (judging by the success of other promenade shopping districts), urbanists would finally have the car-free streets they’ve only dreamed of, and Brooklyn would have the coolest Mac store in the world.


Posted by lumi at 6:12 AM

February 23, 2008

Plan to Rebuild Penn Station Area May Be Close to Failure

The New York Times
by Charles V. Bagli

The sweeping $14 billion proposal to transform Pennsylvania Station and the district around it is in danger of collapse because of the softening economy, shortfalls in government financing, political inertia and daunting logistical problems, government officials and real estate executives involved in the project said this week.

Some government officials and real estate executives are concerned that a slowing economy and the current state of the credit markets, where there is little money available for large real estate deals, could cause problems for both the sale of the railyards and the Moynihan project.


NoLandGrab: And what about New York City's other railyard deal?

Posted by eric at 3:27 PM

Let’s Chop Up Superblocks



There's the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. While there are a lot of reasons to criticize this project, starting with the process that seemed to reverse the normal way development of a public parcel should proceed. But when you get down to urban design of the plan itself, it has entirely too few streets. Not only does it de-map some existing ones, it doesn't pick up the possibility of creating new ones so that this big area could be divided into smaller, pedestrian friendly blocks.
Why do developers haul out the superblock so quickly when designing current projects, and why do public officials let them, despite its near death in academic circles?
Large concentrations of money affect development in New York City disproportionately, and such large concentrations of money often favor having large concentrations of land to work with. While it may be a disservice to the city to have a large, island-like superblock - traffic flow is disrupted, walking and bicycling trips are made more difficult -- to the developer, a superblock allows for wide floor plates, campus-like settings and a level of land use control that would not otherwise be possible. And since the government sector is weak, large developers often end up doing what suits them first, not the public.


Posted by amy at 11:49 AM

February 21, 2008

City’s Sweeping Rezoning Plan for 125th Street Has Many in Harlem Concerned

The New York Times
by Timothy Williams

The Bloomberg Administration has proposed a sweeping re-zoning for Harlem's iconic 125th Street, which has neighborhood residents worried. If recent re-zonings around the city are any indication, they should be.

Amanda M. Burden, chairwoman of the Planning Commission, who since her appointment in 2002 has presided over some of the most extensive rezoning undertaken for two generations, said she was not intent on making 125th Street another generic boulevard.

Ms. Burden said she had spent more time studying the 125th Street proposal — including attending 30 to 40 meetings and walking the street on several occasions — than she had on any other project, including Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Columbia University’s expansion in western Harlem.

NoLandGrab: If Amanda Burden had done nothing more than a drive-by while glancing at a map, she would have "spent more time studying the 125th Street proposal" than she spent studying Atlantic Yards. But no, she immersed herself, even conducting her own primary research:

The idea that the street needed development hit her, she said, when she attended a recent Roberta Flack concert at the Apollo with a friend who works on the street.

After the concert ended, Ms. Burden said, she asked her friend where they should eat. “Downtown,” the friend replied.

“There should be a million different eateries around there, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to frame and control growth on 125th Street,” Ms. Burden said. “The energy on the street is just remarkable, and it’s got to stay that way.”


NLG: We're dying to comment on Amanda's dining quandary, but it's better that we just bite our tongue.

Posted by eric at 11:02 AM

It came from the Blogosphere...

Found in Brooklyn, Meanwhile back at Freddy's, this one is mine.

First, some Toll Brothers rage, where the author hurls the ultimate invective at the development company's Gowanus proposal, calling it "the mini Atlantic Yards." [Congratulations Bruce, your Atlantic Yards plan is now the poster child for really crappy overdevelopment that only a politician could love.]

Art-FIB.jpgThen on to art in the footprint of Bruce's controversial plan:

ANYWAY back to pimping the art show at Freddy's. This was my contribution to the show. I painted on found book covers and then collaged them together. Any of the images look familiar?

I will be continuing to feature the artists that participated in the show and I remind you to stop by Freddy's and see it for yourself. The demolition surrounding dear Freddy's is enough to drive one to drink. Freddy's is in the footprint of the Atlantic Yards and Bruce Ratner is the man they write their rent checks to, sick isn't it?

Metroblogging NYC, Why Is The Government So Stupid?

An explanation of one of the many stupid things about NYC and Atlantic Yards:

While mayor Bloomberg and many city agencies are actively trying to reduce the problems caused by private vehicles in the heart of Manhattan, fund improvements in mass transit and provide affordable housing; city mandated policies in the outer boroughs promote driving and car ownership by requiring building owners to build parking garages even in areas reasonably well served by mass transit.
Like any market distortion, parking requirements have created their own set of absurd choices.
One such area is Atlantic Yards, in which at least 4000 parking spaces will be put in with over 2000 required for residents in spite of the fact that the site is a major transit hub served my multiple subway lines and the Long Island Railroad. Many of these will come in the form of hugely expensive and potentially dangerous underground parking. Doesn't anyone remember the first World Trade Center attack which thankfully did not involve plastic explosives?

"Last year, several commentators on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) questioned the provision of parking--not just interim surface lots, but also the 2570 underground spaces intended for the project's residential component and an additional 1100 underground spaces for the arena."

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The Big Apple, ProHo (Prospect Heights)
An examination of the name "ProHo" (ugh!) uncovers this interesting boo boo in the Wikipedia entry:

Prospect Heights is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, bounded by Flatbush Avenue to the west, Atlantic Avenue to the north, Eastern Parkway to the south, and, Washington Avenue to the east, at the end of Prospect Hill. However, real estate brokers with a vested interest often misrepresent the eastern boundary as being as far as Classon, Franklin, or even Bedford Avenues. In its northern section are the Atlantic Yards.

NoLandGrab readers know that the railyards are named "Vanderbilt Yards." "Atlantic Yards" is the name that Bruce Ratner bestowed on his megaproject — the brand name fits nicely with his Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal Malls.

California Real Estate, California Tenants Fight to Save Rent Control
Congratulations Bruce, your Atlantic Yards plan is still a national poster child of eminent domain abuse:

Emboldened by a national outcry against the use of eminent domain to seize property for private developments like Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards, California landlords have devised an ingenious attack on the state’s local rent-control laws: Disguising a statewide referendum to ban them as a measure to reform eminent domain.

Walking Off the Big Apple, The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect: Final Thoughts

In thinking about comparable urban developments of our own era, the kind that fuse private economic power with state ambition, the extraordinary projects in Abu Dhabi and Dubai come to mind, or maybe, the building of contemporary Berlin. But what new projects await Gotham? Well, several developments of some scale are in the works - the High Line/Hudson Yards redevelopment projects on the west side of Manhattan, Atlantic Yards in downtown Brooklyn, designed by Frank Gehry, and the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site downtown.

Still, whichever of these large projects come to fruition in this uncertain economy, contemporary architects and urban planners could learn a few lessons from Raymond Hood's skills and visionary design. A trip to Rockefeller Center is a start, watching people take pictures of friends and family in front of the fountain and enjoying the scene of people falling down on skates. Sure, the Rock's often crowded, but isn't that precisely the point?

NoLandGrab: Sorry to be a wet blanket, but it seems that Atlantic Yards has defied as many lessons from Rockefeller Center as it has absorbed. Ratner is hoping that if he builds it, they will come.

Posted by lumi at 4:14 AM

February 15, 2008

Downtown, Related Developments Bear Out 2004 Projections

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
By Dennis Holt

If you look at Atlantic Yards through rose-colored glasses, it's not as big or boondoggly as it seems:


Although not a construction spade has pierced any of the large ground that is known as the Atlantic Yards site, its enormous size tends to dwarf all other Downtown Brooklyn development projects.

At more than 8.6 million square feet and a total price tag of $4 billion, with more than 6,000 housing units planned, half affordable, Atlantic Yards will hold its own with just about anything except maybe the Hudson Yards project proposed for the west side of Manhattan.

But if you look carefully at what else is in the works for Downtown Brooklyn and separate the developments by area, a different story emerges. And if you break up the Atlantic Yards project into its components, it isn’t as awesome as the whole thing looks.

As a bonus, author Dennis Holt comes to this startling conclusion:

All in all, it is a safe conclusion that the goals of the 2004 rezoning plan, to overhaul much of the old Downtown Brooklyn core area, are being achieved, and there were a lot of people who scoffed at those hopes.


NoLandGrab: The Downtown Brooklyn Plan ran so far off the tracks that the Mayor had to appoint Joe Chan to try to get it back on line. Nowhere in the original rezoning plan does the City predict that the market would deliver primarily high-rise luxury housing and then head into a real estate slump, or maybe it does if you squint real hard.

Posted by lumi at 5:16 AM

February 7, 2008

New York Can Do Better Than the “New Fourth Avenue”


Just how is Brooklyn's Fourth Avenue supposed to live up to its billing as "Brooklyn's answer to Park Avenue," when developers build crap like The Crest (pictured) and Atlantic Yards looms like a bad omen?


The fate of Atlantic Yards and congestion pricing, still fairly clouded by uncertainty, could either exacerbate the current traffic problem or lead to a more ped-friendly and transit-oriented allocation of street space. But for the immediate future, at least, we can expect developers (some less villainous than Bruce Ratner) to dictate events.


Posted by lumi at 5:24 AM

February 2, 2008

CHANGING NYC: As costs grow, New York's grand plans shrink


Forest City Ratner, the company preparing to build blocks of new skyscrapers in Brooklyn, anchored around an NBA basketball arena, recently suggested that the protracted court battle over the $4 billion project could compromise its financing.

"The credit markets are in turmoil at this time," Andrew Silberfein, the company's finance director, said in a court affidavit. "There is a serious question as to whether, given the current state of the debt market, the underwriters will be able to proceed with the financing for the arena while the appeal is pending."

Later, Forest City officials sought to dispel any idea that the Frank Gehry-designed Atlantic Yards project is in trouble, saying the court filing was intended to persuade a judge to resolve the legal dispute quickly.


Posted by amy at 12:52 PM

January 25, 2008

How Jacobs would view Yards

The Brooklyn Paper
By Michael Desmond Delahaye White

I went through the principles set forth in Jacobs’s book to create an Atlantic Yards report card (right). This report card covers all of Jacobs’s standards, such as the need for short blocks, a close mingling of buildings that vary in age and condition and even some of her more-obvious guidance: Don’t expect Jacobian endorsement of the mega-development’s 15-story illuminated electronic billboard.

Across-the-board, the mega-development earns almost entirely failing grades.

Jacobs pointed out that “big plans” lead to “big mistakes.” Her thinking also points out that when enormous subsidies are misdirected with disrespect for the city’s vital fabric, those mistakes are bigger and government is much more culpable for the harm.

The “F” grade that Jane Jacobs would have given this project speaks for itself.


Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report adds:

Would Jane Jacobs approve of Atlantic Yards? I've written before about how the planners behind the project Yards certainly were not unmindful of the Jacobsian qualities for a healthy city, but the project really wouldn't qualify.

Posted by lumi at 4:26 AM

January 9, 2008

Setting Standards for Green Neighborhoods

Gotham Gazette
By Tom Angotti

An interesting article exploring what it means to be green, especially when you're an urban megaproject like Atlantic Yards:


Recent successes with green buildings have spurred new efforts to make whole neighborhoods more sustainable and environmentally friendly. But is the attempt to develop a "green neighborhood" stamp of approval just an industry marketing gimmick? The pilot projects chosen in New York City -- including Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, Willets Point in Queens and the Columbia expansion in upper Manhattan -- raise some serious questions about how green these proposed neighborhoods will be.
Some experts have expressed concern that LEED certification is too narrowly focused on individual buildings and does not take into consideration the relationship of the building to the urban environment. After all, individual buildings can be environmentally friendly while at the same time contributing to destructive patterns such as suburban sprawl, displacement of viable communities and demolition of sound buildings and communities.
Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards is being promoted as "transit-oriented development," even though the project's environmental impact study found it will encourage auto use. In addition, while the developer says it may build LEED-certified buildings, the environmental review showed that the project will leave most of the area in permanent shadows.


Posted by lumi at 5:11 AM

January 5, 2008

The Community Plan for the Vanderbilt Yards


Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

When Atlantic Yards finally goes away, the community is ready with the UNITY Plan. The website for the plan has just launched; there you can also download the pdf of the complete plan and view more plan models.


Posted by amy at 10:26 AM

January 3, 2008

The Hudson Yards Proposals: Plenty of Glitz, Little Vision

The Wall Street Journal
by Ada Louise Huxtable

The noted Wall Street Journal architecture critic bemoans the proposals for the Hudson Yards, and concludes her review with a scathing indictment of government's role — an indictment that applies just as aptly to the fiasco better known as "Atlantic Yards."

The city thinks like a developer; that vision thing, the long-term overview, the balance of private investment and public utility and amenity, is just not there. The disposition of public land is expedited on the developers' terms even though the land is the most powerful negotiating tool of all -- something so valuable in New York that builders would kill for it -- and the Hudson Yards are an estimated $7 billion prize. It is accepted that whatever the plans are for these vast tracts of squandered opportunity, they will ultimately be controlled, compromised, or scuttled by the winner of the financial contest that is at the heart of the matter. New York will continue to sell itself short all the way to the bank.


Posted by lumi at 10:18 AM

Critic Huxtable on West Side yards plans: New York sells itself short

Atlantic Yards Report

From the perspective of Atlantic Yards critics, the plan to develop the West Side yards (aka Hudson Yards) is inevitably superior, because it starts with an RFP rather than an anointed developer.

And indeed, Gov. Eliot Spitzer this week told the New York Observer: We are pleased with the bids as they came in—in terms of the magnitude financially, the scale of the proposals, the creativity, the involvement of some of our most prominent real estate companies and private-sector employers who want to site headquarters there. … It reflects and justifies our confidence that if we did an RFP [request for proposals] for that site, we could elicit great response.

But critics have already offered several cautions. In New York magazine, Justin Davidson warned that finance will trump design, and New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff called it a "grim referendum on the state of large-scale planning in New York City."

And yesterday, Wall Street Journal (and former New York Times) architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, in a review headlined The Hudson Yards Proposals: Plenty of Glitz, Little Vision, was harsh, writing that only two of the five design teams "appear to have thought about it beyond the standard investment model blown up to gargantuan scale." (She never wrote about Atlantic Yards.)


Posted by lumi at 4:38 AM

December 31, 2007

Best & Worst of 2007

Preservation Nation


Brooklyn Under Siege

Atlantic Yards is clearly in the "worst" category in this look back at U.S. building preservation issues in 2007.

Brooklyn is becoming too cool for its history. New York City’s largest development, the Atlantic Yards project, made headway this year, erasing the 1910 Ward Bakery building. Developer Forest City Ratner has put at least six more historic buildings on the chopping block to make way for its 22-acre project, whose main feature is a basketball arena designed by Frank Gehry. Neighbors say the new construction is inappropriate next to their quiet historic brownstones.


NoLandGrab: Forest City Ratner has done its "worst" to "erase" the Ward Bakery building, but so far, they've only managed to topple the parapet and perform some "pre-demolition" work.

Posted by steve at 6:33 AM

December 24, 2007

PlaNYC 1950: why parking shouldn't be required at apartment projects like Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Mayor Mike Bloomberg's much-praised PlaNYC 2030 contains a glaring omission, a failure to address the antiquated anti-urban policy that mandates parking attached to new residential developments outside Manhattan, even when such developments, like Atlantic Yards, are justified precisely because they're located near transit hubs.

Last year, several commentators on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) questioned the provision of parking--not just interim surface lots, but also the 2570 underground spaces intended for the project's residential component and an additional 1100 underground spaces for the arena.

(Map from Atlantic Yards web site.)

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) dismissed the questions, but the issue won't go away.


Posted by lumi at 5:12 AM

December 22, 2007

Penn’s Jacobsian experience, and the difficulty of planning

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder uses lessons learned by the University of Pennsylvania to illustrate the pitfalls of trying to drive redevelopment with a monolithic plan.

A quote from Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and former president of the University of Pennsylvania:

In his 1990 book Inquiry and Change: The Troubled Attempt to Understand and Shape Society, Lindblom points out the impossibility of being truly comprehensive in urban planning from the start, because there are inevitable biases that frame the work in the abstract and there is an inexhaustible number of forces that enter into the life of cities over time that cannot be anticipated in advance.

Oder applies this issue of uncertainty to Atlantic Yards:

This raises many questions about the environmental review process regarding major projects like Atlantic Yards. Among them: Can a ten-year effect on traffic and transit really be estimated? Is ten years a legitimate endpoint, or an arbitrary one? And what if the buildout would take much longer?


Posted by steve at 8:12 AM

December 21, 2007

Where were you? Brooklyn AIA offers belated, underinformed AY solutions

Atlantic Yards Report

Some of the most sober and trenchant criticism of Atlantic Yards has come from architects, notably Jonathan Cohn in his now on-hiatus Brooklyn Views blog. Now, four years after the project was announced, a letter to the editor published in this week's Brooklyn Paper is the first evidence, as far as I can tell, that the Brooklyn chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA)--or any other AIA chapter--has taken a stance on Atlantic Yards.

Despite attempts to be constructive, the message is underinformed and in some ways misguided.

Norman Oder examines I. Donald Weston's bizarre assertion that the "stadium" — oops, it's an "arena" — could be "relocated further away from the street," brings up the temporary surface parking lot, which runs counter to Weston's four-point traffic plan, and explains that had the American Institute of Architects submitted these comments to the Empire State Development Corporation during the environmental review in 2006, they might have received some sort of response.


Posted by lumi at 5:30 AM

December 20, 2007

The AY omission in the Jane Jacobs exhibit, some contentions, and the lesson of skepticism

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder concludes his two-part, two-day examination of the Municipal Art Society's Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibit by taking issue with the absence of Atlantic Yards from the physical exhibit (it does pop up rather frequently in the companion book, Block by Block), and offering his own Jacobsian critique of the controversial project:

Beyond that, I’d observe that it’s a stretch to consider Atlantic Yards a downtown anyone would want to visit. It’s basically an arena (plus Urban Room) attached to a modern-day (and improved) Stuyvesant Town, with retail at its base. Sure, some people might visit the Urban Room and the open space when there’s programming, but a tiny spot of lawn would not a borough magnet make.

Rather, Atlantic Yards is part of a fabric of mostly luxury housing developing in Downtown Brooklyn and beyond; it would not create that downtown core. (There would be significantly more affordable housing than in other nearby developments, but the pace and provision is hardly guaranteed, most isn't geared to the poor, and it came in a private deal for increased density.)


Posted by lumi at 11:33 AM

December 19, 2007

The Jane Jacobs exhibit: a worthy reaffirmation but just the start of a longer discussion

Atlantic Yards Report

Haven't had the time to tour the Municipal Art Society's Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibit? Haven't had the chance to pick up the exhibit's companion book, Block by Block?

Fear not! Atlantic Yards Report's Norman Oder has neatly summarized both, in the first part of a planned two-part series. His second installment will filter the exhibition through the prism of Atlantic Yards, or vice-versa.

What does the exhibit say about Atlantic Yards? Nothing much directly—an understandable if debatable curatorial choice—but the principles it raises, especially Jacobs’s insistence on neighborhood voices, do call the project into question, even as the project has been proferred as a solution to some challenges of growth Jacobs may not have fully confronted. (More on this in Part 2.)


For those of you who would like to experience the exhibit first hand, it has been extended until January 26th. Click here for more info.

Posted by lumi at 10:25 AM

December 16, 2007

Jane Jacobs exhibit extended through January 26


Atlantic Yards Report

The exhibit Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, originally scheduled to close on January 5, has been extended through January 26.

That gives New Yorkers more time to explore an important exhibit; while it occupies a modest amount of space, in two rooms at the Municipal Art Society's (MAS) Urban Center, it covers a lot of ground and offers many implications for the future.


Posted by amy at 10:22 AM

December 15, 2007


Views from the Bridge

Having sidestepped the public review process, Mr. Ratner now admits the new Gehry-designed Nets Arena will cause a glut of traffic at Atlantic and Flatbush. Grim news when you consider that the intersection is already impossible to pass through safely by car much less on foot. Way back in 2003, long before there was anything other than an arena in question, that was the initial objection posed by the people of downtown Brooklyn.

That problem was explained away by two mystifying diversions. The first fix was adding a dozen or so buildings that would make it all better in some vague way. Why? Because it would all be bigger (including the outrageous, ungoverned cost) and thus work better for some unexplained reason. The second fix was that the Ratner/Markowitz promised better routed and more frequent subway service to the Atlantic Avenue station. Fans, it was assumed, would prefer the subway at midnight to driving home in their own cars. The MTA has since explained that any such expansion of service is completely impossible.


Posted by amy at 9:54 AM

Downtown Arena Ideas

Edmonton Sun
Lucky Canada gets "American expert on new pro sports arenas," Mark Rosentraub, "a Cleveland State University professor and author of Major League Losers: The Real Cost of Sports and Who’s Paying for It." Good luck, Edmonton!

Edmonton needn’t look any further than the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn to find inspiration for a new downtown rink project, he said.
“There’s no debate. Pro sports arenas benefit the team, their city and its citizens most when they are built like a shopping mall flagship store – as a real estate anchor that generates massive economic growth through new nearby developments,” Rosentraub said.

NoLandGrab: No debate at all. Just put on your happy faces and go home, people. The Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn Holiday Party tomorrow is just a celebration of all things Atlantic Yards...

Posted by amy at 9:06 AM

December 14, 2007

And the Doctor is Off! (A Wrap Up)

The Wonkster's wrap-up of reaction to Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's departure begins with NYC bloggers, none of whom had anything positive to say about the City Planning Czar, unless you include the fact that Deputy Dan finally admitted that Atlantic Yards should have gone through ULURP:

Reaction from bloggers has been decidedly unfavorable for Bloomberg’s right hand man. OnNYTurf says “good riddance,” and Queens Crap thinks it is a “truly great day for the City of New York.” The Neighborhood Retail Alliance is also happy to see him go, and criticizes his “disdain for the small and minority businesses” also calling into question his relationship with the Related Companies, a major developer. And after Doctoroff’s revelation to The Real Estate that he thinks maybe the Atlantic Yards project should have gone through the city’s land use process, the Atlantic Yards Report, dedicated to “watchdogging” the project, simply says he’s finally “admitted” the fact.


Posted by lumi at 4:48 AM

December 11, 2007

Doctoroff Looks Back on Atlantic Yards

The Real Estate


The New York Observer's Matthew Schuerman, one of the more astute observers of Atlantic Yards, offers up an online teaser for a longer article coming in tomorrow's newspaper:

Critics of Atlantic Yards repeatedly argue that there is something about the 22-acre housing and arena complex in Brooklyn that does not jibe with the Bloomberg administration’s rhetoric about community participation in the planning process. In an article appearing in tomorrow’s Observer, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff basically agrees.

“I am a huge believer in the ULURP process,” he said, referring to the seven-month public-review process that involves the local community board, the borough president, the City Planning Commission and the City Council. “If it happened again, and the state were to ask if I would encourage them to take Atlantic Yards through the ULURP process, I would say yes.”


NoLandGrab: Of course, in hindsight, Doctoroff would recommend that Atlantic Yards go through ULURP, it would have shaved several months off of the review/approval process.

Posted by lumi at 2:27 PM

Not Everyone is Sad to See Doctoroff Go

Runnin' Scared [The Village Voice blog]
By John DeSio


In the press conference announcing Doctoroff’s departure Bloomberg invoked the name of Robert Moses, the development bogeyman who has seen his reputation steadily decline over the years, to make a favorable comparison to his departing deputy. "Dan leaves an extraordinary record of accomplishment, and unlike Robert Moses, he worked with communities, not bulldozing over them," Bloomberg said.

But for the communities that faced off with Doctoroff during his tenure, this comment rings hollow.

“He was a bulldozer,” said Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the organization leading the fight to oppose the Doctoroff-backed Atlantic Yards proposal, which will create affordable and market-rate housing alongside a new basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets in Downtown Brooklyn, to be developed by Forest City Ratner. “Specifically, when it came to Atlantic Yards, Dan Doctoroff did not deal with the community at all, which means the administration didn’t either.”


Posted by lumi at 4:36 AM

December 8, 2007

Modern-Day Robert Moses

The New York Observer
Matthew Schuerman interviews Dan Doctoroff...

Location: Well, what do you think about that? Atlantic Yards, in particular?

Doctoroff: I think in that case there was an enormous level of community input. There were hundreds of meetings and enormous outreach to community leaders. The difference was that it was not submitted to a vote of the City Council. In that case, you had a local Council member who was not in favor. On the other hand, you had the majority of the Council—I can’t say this with 100 percent certainty—that wants it.

NoLandGrab: You mean community input, like this?

Posted by amy at 9:48 AM

When Residents Weigh In on Gentrification

NY Times City Room
Sewell Chan reports on panel discussion “The Oversuccessful City, Part 2: Neighborhood Character in the Face of Change,” wher Daily News columnist Errol Louis was a panelist:

But Mr. Louis, who has drawn the ire of Atlantic Yards opponents for his writings in support of the project in Brooklyn, also expressed skepticism about the critics of gentrification.

“Terms like ‘oversuccessful,’ terms that get thrown around like ‘out of scale’ — even gentrification itself – these are terms of art,” Mr. Louis said. “These are differences of opinion. These are things that have to be fought out at the community level, frankly. It’s probably too late by the time you get to the public hearing.”

NoLandGrab: Yes, public hearings are too late, especially when they go down like this...

Posted by amy at 9:39 AM


NY Post
Steve Cuozzo on the upcoming Doctoroff departure:

WHAT happens now? That's the question about a batch of giant, public-private land-use schemes that Dan Doctoroff either set in motion or decisively kick-started.

They're all deals yet to be nailed down. But it's unclear whether anyone else at City Hall has the brains, technical skills and persuasive power to see them through before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office at the end of 2009.

Most proposals you've read about - such as the West Side rail yards, Atlantic Yards, Moynihan Station, Ground Zero rebuilding and the JPMorganChase tower - have a long way to go before shovels can go into the ground.


Posted by amy at 9:31 AM

December 7, 2007

Extell on the Atlantic Yards Process


Brownstoner excerpts an interview from The Observer with Extell Development's Gary Barnett. Extell was the only developer impudent enough to submit a competing bid when the MTA issued an RFP (request for proposals) for the Vanderbilt Yards.

Included is this remembrance of Extell's bid, which was far greater than Forest City's:

The city and the state haven’t partnered with a developer publicly beforehand. What type of chance did you think you had on Atlantic Yards? Did you think that was something of a long shot? You said so, if I remember, in your cover letter [for the bid].

We are shocked—shocked—that we bid $150 million, [Forest City Chairman Bruce] Ratner bid $50 million, yet he somehow managed to get it.


Posted by steve at 8:02 AM

Deputy Doctoroff: Community Was Shut Out

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

The resignation of Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff draws DDDB comment on how the Atlantic Yards project, which was pushed by Doctoroff, failed to take the community into account.

His last big policy push during his tenure was the PlaNYC 2030 proposal for sustainable development. The mayor's PlaNYC proposal says, “As our search for land becomes more pressing in the coming decades, we must be prepared to work with communities to explore the potential of these sites.”

Clearly Atlantic Yards violated that principle...egregiously.


Posted by steve at 7:07 AM

Doctoroff Resignation React-o-Matic gathered some online comments on Deputy Dan's resignation, including two that mention Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards project:


Our loss was his inability to identify what the city truly needed in the sad days after 9/11 and a focus on achievable and desired goals. That and a bit too close relationship to developers looking for a buck off the city. So here we are -- a city less affordable and with more luxury highrises built by Trump&Co... and a Bruce Ratner nightmare that will live on." [Curbed comments]

"Mr. Doctoroff was most famous for turning the decades old Bronx Terminal market into a shopping mall, turning the Brooklyn waterfront into an Ikea, turning more of the Brooklyn waterfront into luxury buildings and calling it a 'park,' driving out much loved ethnic vendors from Red Hook and pushing through Atlantic Yards, a development expected to be the densest residential construction in the history of the U.S. His departure brought tears from fat cat developers around the city. [City Room comments]

Posted by lumi at 4:20 AM

December 6, 2007

NYC is Good for Walkies


We probably didn't need a Brookings Institution study to confirm that New York is a highly walkable city, but we did learn something from it. Did you know that one of the most-walkable neighborhoods is "Atlantic Yards?!"

The walkable NYC places mentioned are: (Metropolitan area) Downtown/Wall Street, Midtown, Brooklyn/Atlantic Yards....

However, there may have been some problems with the study:

The study's author, Christopher B. Leinberger, admits there are issues with the methodology, namely that walkable places are weighted the same in different areas, even though Midtown Manhattan is 30 times bigger than the DC area's Reston Center.


NoLandGrab: One additional methodological problem might be the study's inclusion of places that don't actually exist, except in glossy marketing and public relations brochures. It's possible that they meant "Vanderbilt Yards," though that not-so-walkable site is surrounded by chain-link fence and poses the risk of one's getting run over by a train.

Given the area's walkability, however, one has to wonder why plans for Atlantic Yards call for 3,600+ permanent parking spaces and an enormous "interim surface parking lot."

Posted by lumi at 10:41 AM

December 5, 2007

Panel on "oversuccess" raises questions about community review, CBAs, gentrification, and AY

The indefatigable Norman Oder attended last night's Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York panel on "The Oversuccessful City," where Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project made its regular cameo appearance as development and planning-process bugaboo:

Unfortunately, [Ron Shiffman of the Pratt Institute] said, “too many comfortable relationships” favor projects that threaten communities. He cited the Columbia University expansion, where the City Council rejected a plan developed by Manhattan Community Board 9, and the Atlantic Yards project, where Forest City Ratner got “a deal to bypass the city review process.”

Affordable housing, he said, should be achieved not through a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), a “wedge issue” used to gain political support for a project like Atlantic Yards, but through policies, “not because we put zoning for sale”—another reference to the private rezoning for AY—“but because it’s a requirement for our society.”

Our political leaders, he suggested, are too insulated from the concerns. “We need to revisit public processes.”


Posted by lumi at 10:23 AM

Imagine Flatbush, Jane Jacobs, and NIMBYism

Flatbush2030Logo.jpg Atlantic Yards Report

On yesterday's Brian Lehrer Show, a segment addressed Imagine Your Neighborhood 2030: a Community Visioning Project initiated by the Municipal Art Society (MAS)....

One of Lehrer's guests, Eve Baron, director of the MAS Planning Center, described the effort as growing out of lessons learned from both Jane Jacobs and Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030.

Lehrer was a bit skeptical, pointing out that PlaNYC relies on increased density, especially at transit hubs.

Baron: The mayor's plan is critically important... We're trying to bring in neighborhood notions of sustainability, which would probably include more Jane Jacobs-type concepts about planning.

Lehrer interjected: Is it a "not in my backyard" sensibility?

Baron responded: I think not. I think Jane Jacobs was in favor of responsible development that would accommodate growth, but growth that didn't undermine what people love about a neighborhood.

That remains a challenge for the city.


Posted by lumi at 5:35 AM

December 4, 2007

Lessons from the West Side yards: it's the master plan, not the starchitect

Atlantic Yards Report

AYR contrasts last night's public presentation of five competing plans for the MTA's West Side yards in Manhattan with the lack of public process in the approval of Atlantic Yards.

Norman Oder notes that:

  • There is a big interest in large-scale projects like the West Side yards development (with over one thousand in attendance last night).
  • The plan, and not the architect, is what matters.
  • Frank Gehry never had to publicly present his concepts for the Atlantic Yards.
  • A large development needs multiple styles and multiple architects.
  • None of the plans presented suggest enclosing open space with tall buildings.
  • The proposals would result in a denser development than Atlantic Yards, but not as residentially dense.
  • The Manhattan plans would be built only on MTA property.
  • There is a public process, but it's unclear what, if any, parts of these proposals might be used ultimately.
  • The West Side yards proposals will have to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

and, finally:

Atlantic Yards was proposed (well, publicly announced) four years ago, minus one week. A single-source project like it, on such valuable publicly-owned land, could never be proposed today. We know better.


Posted by steve at 6:47 AM

December 3, 2007

Will "absurd" process make Atlantic Yards this generation’s Penn Station?

Atlantic Yards Report

AYR continues its Monday Kent barwick doubleheader with a report on — and analysis of — last week's "Modernism and the Public Realm" panel discussion:

At every public program these days about urbanism, it seems, Atlantic Yards gets a mention, and Wednesday night, at a panel titled "Modernism and the Public Realm" at the Museum of the City of New York, Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society (MAS), offered a striking prediction.

It was a passing, middle-of-the-night thought, he allowed, but maybe Atlantic Yards “will be, in its way, like Penn Station,” the 1963 demolition of which galvanized New Yorkers to finally achieve a landmarks preservation law. “Maybe the absurdity with which that proceeded will awaken the desire for a more rational process.”

(That begs the question about why Barwick and the MAS have not taken a more confrontational stance toward Atlantic Yards, instead hoping to mend it rather than end it.)

Barwick's fellow panelist, urbanist and author Fred Siegel, was considerably less circumspect in his opinion about the mother of all public-funding sinkholes:

After seconding Barwick, Siegel, an urbanist with a center-right bent, attacked Atlantic Yards as a subsidy boondoggle. Brooklyn, he pointed out, is going through an economic boom. “In the midst of this, what is the compelling economic logic for Atlantic Yards?” he said, citing $700 million in subsidies. (Actually, the amount of direct subsidies would be $305 million, but the total in tax breaks, discounted land, and other benefits surely exceeds $700 million.)

In closing, he returned to Atlantic Yards, which he declared not a product of modernism, economic growth, or housing demand. “It is purely and simply a product of the mayor’s politics.”


Posted by lumi at 1:19 PM

December 2, 2007

A neo-Jacobsian take on urbanism: "morphogenesis"


Atlantic Yards Report

In this time of discussion about the influence and impact of urbanist Jane Jacobs, it´s interesting to hear a modern take that, while not explicitly referencing Jacobs´s work, seems to reflect her conceptualizations.

Take the innovative landscape architect James Corner of Field Operations. “Sites are always, in a sense, in a transition,” he said at a panel discussion November 8 at MOMA titled The Old Becomes New: Urban Revitalization in New York.

He contrasted the “model of erasure and tabula rasa” and its polar opposite, preservation, when “the historic residue has to be preserved” at all costs, with the notion of morphogenesis,” or “the growth of life,” which allows that “good landscapes, like good cities, are never static.” (The term comes from developmental biology.) Note that, while Jacobs has been embraced by preservationists, that was never her priority.


Posted by amy at 11:57 AM

December 1, 2007

Akerman Senterfitt Acquires 21-Attorney Firm

Miami-based Akerman Senterfitt has doubled the size of its New York office with its acquisition of 21-lawyer Stadtmauer Bailkin, a firm specializing in economic development and land use.

Stadtmauer Bailkin co-founders David Stadtmauer and Michael D. Bailkin have both served in senior economic development positions within city and state government, with Stadtmauer previously serving as director of commercial and civic development and director of industrial development at the New York State Urban Development Corporation and Bailkin serving as general counsel of the Mayor's Office of Development of the City of New York. The firm has negotiated incentive packages for some of the city's largest real estate development projects, including the Brooklyn's MetroTech Center and upcoming Atlantic Yards.


Posted by amy at 9:46 AM

November 29, 2007

Panel: a stronger public sector might mitigate "oversuccess," but developer reality is scarce

Atlantic Yards Report

The second-to-last panel in the series related to Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, dubbed The Oversuccessful City, Part 1: Developers' Realities, like several predecessor events, aired a good deal of unease concerning the city's situation, with a partial menu of solutions.

The panel, held Tuesday night at the spanking new Times Center, was summarized by the New York Times under a headline “Can New York Be Too Successful?”, with the conclusion that “no one really argued that the city could be too successful.”

That missed the point; “the dilemmas of affordable housing and out-of-scale development” are exactly a challenge resulting from what Jacobs called “oversuccess," and the solution, at least as some panelists suggested, is a stronger public sector.


Posted by lumi at 8:57 PM

Can New York Be Too Successful?

City Room [The NY Times]
By Sewell Chan

Has New York City’s remarkable economic expansion of the past decade been too much of a good thing? A panel of developers took up this question on Tuesday night in a panel discussion organized by the Municipal Art Society, with the title “The Oversuccessful City, Part 1: Developers’ Realities.”

Not surprisingly, no one really argued that the city could be too successful. Instead, the often spirited discussion — which at times seemed dominated by angry members of the audience — focused on the dilemmas of affordable housing and out-of-scale development. Projects like Atlantic Yards and the redevelopment of the Far West Side came up. Charles V. Bagli, who covers economic development for The Times, moderated the discussion.
[Professor Birch] pointed out that three of the most ambitious projects under way or on the drawing board — Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, the Hudson Yards development proposed for the Far West Side of Manhattan, and the creation of a new Moynihan Station at the James A. Farley Post Office Building in Midtown — are going forward not under the city’s aegis but that of the state. “What has happened to city and its ability to lead and direct its own development?” she asked.


Posted by lumi at 5:09 AM

5 Questions: Kent Barwick

Last Exit

Barwick-LE.jpg More evidence that Kent Barwick hasn't been paying much attention or just doesn't like Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn:

You’d mentioned that the Atlantic Yards proposal was one of the wakeup calls that inspired this series. But you’re gotten some heat for not coming out totally against that project. What good do you think can come of it?

There’s the [Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman] Daniel Goldstein school of thought, which seemed to us to be well represented, and they were going to go ahead and do the lawsuit and everything. And there were principles that members of Develop Don’t Destroy shared that we didn’t necessarily share. For instance, we thought that it was a good place for high-density development. You’ve got all the subways there. If Brooklyn wants to have an arena, for whatever combination of emotional and psychological reasons — and it’s true of Brooklyn, the loss of the Dodgers is a defining event for longtime Brooklynites – it’s a good place for an arena. It’s not a great place for a rail yard. The rail yard had divided Brooklyn in two. So, there was a lot to recommend the general direction the project in city planning terms. In detail, it was all over the top.

NoLandGrab: Kent Barwick is either purposely ignoring the work that Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn has done to promote the UNITY plan — a plan that proposes more density for the railyards — or he just hasn't been paying attention.

There wasn’t anybody playing the role of the government. And so the developer [Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner] was allowed to do whatever he thought best. He has a lot more expertise in some areas than others. If you look at Atlantic Center or Metrotech, you can realize that his company is a lot more comfortable in suburban settings that urban settings.

Anyway, we thought the biggest problem with this project was that it was way over the top, it’s overreaching and there wasn’t anybody paying attention to it.

Here Barwick gets to the truth of the matter:

We have ties to Bruce Ratner. He and I were in the Koch Administration together. Several of my trustees were personally friendly with Bruce and members of the Ratner family. We had a number of trustees were former Koch people, and Ratner is a Koch person. So there was a feeling on our part, yeah, everyone likes Frank Gehry as a person. And Laurie Olin was a very fine landscape architect who has done a lot of fine work in the city and elsewhere.


So we weren’t dealing with the usual schlock, let’s-rape-the-site-and-get-out-as-quickly-as-we-can developers, using anonymous architects and landscape architect. There was clearly a greater set of ambitions here. So we set out to analyze what we thought about that. So we went out in doing that and met with community groups to see what they thought in the neighborhood.

We were invited out to the neighborhood by these groups. We were kind of apprehensive because it’s easy to dismiss us as some Upper East Side group, with headquarters on Madison Avenue. You’re always vulnerable to that. So we went out and made this presentation. I was the presenter. It was a really good, thoughtful presentation. We didn’t tell anybody anything. It was kind of a Jane Jacobs thing, even though we didn’t know it. So we said, OK, let’s look at the plan. Let’s look at the parks in Brooklyn and see which ones work and which ones don’t work and why. Let’s look at the streets. We used examples. We went through the whole idea of we need multi-use retail, we need parks to be close to major thoroughfares, and people really responded. And that’s when we came up with the idea to say, let’s set up an alternative voice. Not the pro-Ratner, pro-Marty Markowitz. Not Develop Don’t Destroy. We knew they were going to do what they were going to do. But there seemed to be a need for a third voice. But there are a lot of people uncomfortable with “No, we don’t want anything, no.”

So think it was finally a useful thing to do. We haven’t felt so much heat. Norman Oder, who writes the Atlantic Yards blog, is harsh with us, but he’s supportive. He attends almost all these Jane Jacobs things. So I feel we’ve been fairly treated. I am proud of the work that we did. I’m glad we did it, and I think it will lead to more. I think there’s a growing feeling in Brooklyn that the city by itself is not going to adequately plan. There’s so much change going on that there needs to be a broader context, a broader set of discussions. Most offensive about Atlantic Yards was the failure of the city to do anything, the failure of the state to engage in the communities. The communities were just ignored. It was really offensive.

Posted by lumi at 4:55 AM

November 25, 2007

A busy week of panels on Jane Jacobs and modernism

Norman Oder provides a listing of panels regarding urbanism. If he's recommending them, they've gotta be good, right?

Below are the bare listings. Please click on the "article" link to see complete details.

Tuesday, November 27, 6:30 pm
The Oversuccessful City, Part 1: Developers' Realities
At the New York Times Stage Auditorium, 620 Eighth Ave

Wednesday, November 28, 6:30 pm
Modernism and the Public Realm: Planning and Building in New York
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue

Thursday, November 29, 7-9 p.m.,
Changing Perspectives on Preservation: A Panel Discussion
Sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, at 457 Madison Avenue.


Posted by steve at 9:30 AM

November 23, 2007

In Philadelphia, at least, “socially patient” capital

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder delves into former University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin's book, The University and Urban Revival: Out of the Ivory Tower and Into the Streets, about Penn's efforts to engage with and help improve its community in the 1990s, contemplates the idea of "socially patient" capital, and wonders how it might play in Brooklyn.

Those involved in Penn's West Philadelphia Initiatives aimed to keep the neighborhood from gentrifying, “or ‘Penntrifying’ as detractors would say,” writes Rodin. Though that was more doable in Philadelphia, even there it didn´t quite work.


Posted by lumi at 12:05 PM

November 14, 2007

When a university was more transparent (about setbacks) than ESDC/FCR

Atlantic Yards Report

Take note Columbia University, Bruce Ratner and Empire State Development Corporation: when one university presented an expansion plan which connected with the neighborhood, it not only took the neighborhood by surprise, but it proved that you don't have to run roughshod over your neighbors to get what you need.


Posted by lumi at 5:53 AM

November 11, 2007

Coney Island Redo React-o-Matic


"If anything's going to be built, shovels won't go into the ground until 2009. But if that's a problem in Coney Island, it will also be a problem at the World Trade Center, the West Side Yards, the Atlantic Yards and anywhere else there are large projects that aren't in construction yet. There are a lot of hoops to jump through before anything can get done. [David Gratt/Coney Island USA via Coney Island Message Board]


Posted by amy at 10:23 AM

Let Them Eat Hot Dogs

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

On Thursday the Bloomberg administration announced its plans to turn Coney Island into Bloomberg's fantasy island. What does the Mayor think of the small people? From the Brooklyn Paper:
...The city was not prepared to say how much it would be willing to pay to buy out existing land owners. But, Bloomberg made one thing abundantly clear: no longer will small, individually owned amusements conspire to create one great carnival.

“Today, you can’t have a bunch of individual little things and have them survive, not when the public has entertainment alternatives,” said Bloomberg. “They can fly anyplace for next to nothing.”...

Apparently, though, eminent domain is good when used on the small people (see: Prospect Heights, West Harlem, East Harlem, Willets Point, Duffield Street), but not on the table when it comes to big developers such as Joseph Sitt's Thor Equities.


Posted by amy at 10:15 AM

And what if the city treated Ratner like Sitt?

Atlantic Yards Report

The city's plan to have developer Joe Sitt, who owns much of the Coney Island amusement area, swap that land for city land to the west for high-rise housing development, doesn't mention eminent domain, as I pointed out on Friday, but there's another intriguing contrast.

Consider the New York Times's coverage Friday of the Coney Island rezoning:
[Deputy Mayor Dan] Doctoroff said yesterday that the city wanted to find an experienced, world-class amusement park operator to run the district, which is “a very different business than building a shopping center.”

“He doesn’t have the experience to do it,” Mr. Doctoroff said, adding that the city expected Mr. Sitt to play a role in building housing or retail just outside the amusement park.

And what if the city (and state) had said that Forest City Ratner, experienced, yes, in mixed-use developments with office space and retail, but not in building an arena and housing, wasn't appropriate for the Atlantic Yards project?


Posted by amy at 10:11 AM

November 9, 2007

Regarding Coney Island, Bloomberg pledges public input

Atlantic Yards Report

ConeyRezoneNight.jpgThe Coney Island rezoning, unveiled by City Hall to great fanfare yesterday, differs from Atlantic Yards in several respects. Three hot-button issues are rezoning-vs-zoning-override, community input and eminent domain:

It sure helps when it's a rezoning, though, rather than a state override of zoning, as with Atlantic Yards. (The New York Times once couldn't tell the difference.)

Remember what Municipal Art Society President Kent Barwick said at the town-gown panel on Tuesday, that the Bloomberg administration “came late to the notion that it has a responsibility to protect communities.”

More than one correspondent pointed me to a passage in the coverage from Crain's New York Business:

But Mr. Bloomberg will have to get approval from the state legislature, and acquire the land from Mr. Sitt through a cash or land swap deal.
Is eminent domain in this case not on the table?


Posted by lumi at 6:49 AM

November 7, 2007

"When the Big Get Bigger": the unresolved challenge of balancing town and gown

Atlantic Yards Report

Here's a condensed version of last night’s panel, When the Big Get Bigger: New York's Universities and Their Neighborhoods, part of the series associated with the Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibition at the Municipal Art Society (MAS): 1. It’s much easier to mend town-gown relations in West Philadelphia than in West Harlem. 2. We’re not much closer to a solution about how to balance neighborhood impacts with the larger interests of the city and beyond. 3. When a poster child for bad urban development is needed, Atlantic Yards inevitably trips off the lips.

The contentious issue of Columbia University’s West Harlem expansion plan was the backdrop to the panel; though the issue didn’t overwhelm the discussion, several opponents of the plan were in the audience at Rockefeller University, and the 140 or so attendees, upon entrance, were handed a packet criticizing the plan prepared by the Coalition to Preserve Community.


Posted by lumi at 6:56 AM

AIALA Celebrates 150th Birthday, Architecture Month

FCE-TheMercury.jpgMulti-Housing News

Forest City execs were on hand to help kick off Architecture Month in LA, on the rooftop of the former Getty Oil headquarters, recently dubbed "The Mercury." "Adaptive reuse" was the flavor of the month:

The [American Institute of Architects/Los Angeles] selected the rooftop as the celebration’s locale because The Mercury embraces the city’s past architectural heritage and also its promise for the future, according to Carolo Caccavale, AIA/LA associate director. The Mercury represented the trend toward historic and adaptive reuse that has shaped redevelopment in Los Angeles, especially in its downtown core.


NoLandGrab: Adaptive reuse has been a key component in many of Forest City's most recent inner-city renewal projects, except, that is, in Bruce's Brooklyn (see Demolition Update for more details).

Posted by lumi at 5:22 AM

Real Estate Round-Up: November 6, 2007

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
By Sarah Ryley

An article about vanity addresses coming to Brooklyn mentions one of the borough's worst:

Many of the buildings within developer Bruce Ratner’s MetroTech, constructed during a time when Jay and Willoughby streets were probably synonymous with “holdup,” have addresses on MetroTech Center, not an actual street. The actual sequence of those addresses makes no logical sense (6 MetroTech Center is not across the street from 7 MetroTech Center, it’s up the street and around the corner).


NoLandGrab: Of course the numbering of MetroTech's buildings make no logical sense — the office campus is not designed to be people friendly and certainly, at the time, no one was sure that the entire project would ever be built out.

MetroTech Map: source, MetroTech BID

Posted by lumi at 5:03 AM

November 4, 2007

Port Authority's Shorris on public works and the Robert Moses of today (guess)


Atlantic Yards Report

It's time for the public sector to reassert itself, says Anthony E. Shorris, Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. And that means we should stop looking to real estate developers for key infrastructure.

He was speaking (video) at a New York Law School (NYLS) breakfast on 10/19/07. At about 53:20 of the video, former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, now head of New York Civic, asked Shorris who were the 2007 equivalents of master builder Robert Moses and 30-year Port Authority head Austin Tobin.

Shorris: Well, that’s a good question… The larger answer is we sort of right now we have ceded a lot of that to the private sector. Right now, we expect developers, real estate developers, who will build our train stations and run our ferries… we’ve had a kind of almost a religious obsession with having the marketplace solve all problems, including public works.


Posted by amy at 9:15 AM

November 1, 2007

A look at the context and legacy of Jane Jacobs — and a swipe at AY

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder attended the latest panel discussion in the ongoing Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibition last night. Guess which megaproject was the panelists' frequently invoked bete noire?

While the panelists touched on some of those issues, offering worthwhile background on Jacobs and suggesting that her principles could be invoked as a brake against too-rapid change, the discussion was too diffuse and brief, in 90 minutes, to fully engage an urgent debate about accommodating the city's growth and maintaining economic diversity.

And yes, Atlantic Yards was cited more than once as a non-Jacobsian poster child.


Posted by lumi at 8:29 AM

October 30, 2007

Forest City in the News

LEEDLogo.jpg Forest City's office building in the Stapleton project received LEED Gold certification.

Denver Post, Colorado business
From the CO business news roundup:

Forest City Stapleton Inc. announced that the U.S. Green Building Council has awarded LEED Gold Certification for the core and shell design of 3055 Roslyn St., Stapleton's new office building in the East 29th Avenue Town Center.

Rocky Mountain News,

Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the council said: "The certification of this office building in Stapleton's East 29th Avenue Town Center sends a message that Forest City cares about the health of the building's users and employees.

NoLandGrab: Meanwhile in Brooklyn, Forest City is making waves because the specter of Atlantic Yards' high-rises forced the scuttling of plans for solar panels on an affordable housing project under construction just across the street. It's not easy being green when Forest City Ratner has a monopoly on the rest of the neighborhood.

Posted by lumi at 6:30 AM

October 26, 2007

Big step forward for Downtown

The Brooklyn Paper

Downtown Brooklyn is taking a step forward to counterbalance the totally predictable urban-planning faux pas foisted on the neighborhood by Bruce Ratner's 16-acre Metrotech high-rise office campus.

The long — and as yet unfulfilled — hope for a lively Downtown Brooklyn took a huge step forward this week when the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership called on the city to put stores in the ground floor of the dour Municipal Building at the busy corner of Court and Joralemon streets.

By calling the corner “dead space” in our Page 1 article this week, Partnership President Joe Chan has done more than show support for an underutilized corner of an under-retailed part of Brooklyn. He also sent a message — a long-overdue one — to real-estate developers who have ignored what is the most-basic rule of development in a highly populated, well-trafficked area: make sure there is ground-floor retail.

It was the violation of this common-sense rule that led to the “dead space” at Bruce Ratner’s Metrotech complex between Jay Street and Flatbush Avenue Extension.

It’s not that Ratner didn’t build storefronts into his office towers there. He did. But he’s refused to rent much of the space for retail use — and has even replaced retail tenants to make room for more office space.

As a result, the Metrotech campus — which to this day is cited as a model by our Ratner-loving elected officials — is a walled-in fortress that mocks what a Downtown should be. After business hours, when Ratner’s office workers go home, Metrotech becomes barren. And even during the day, when those workers get a break and could go shopping or grab lunch, the sterile campus actually encourages them to stay put in their buildings or leave the campus entirely.


NoLandGrab: Like Metrotech, Atlantic Yards is rife with planning problems that are entirely foreseeable. To acquiesce to Bruce Ratner again and leave these problems to the next generation of planners to fix, as is being done in Downtown Brooklyn, is either wholly negligent or plain crazy.

Posted by lumi at 9:01 AM

Green building goes dark; Yards shadows KO plan for solar power

The Brooklyn Paper
By Dana Rubenstein

A cadre of local elected officials broke ground on what will be Brooklyn’s largest eco-friendly residential development to date — but the solar panels that were to be the building’s crowning feature had to be scrapped because they would never get light once the Atlantic Yards project is completed across the street.

“We were going to have solar panels, but the shadows from Atlantic Yards would make solar power basically irrelevant,” said Michelle de la Uz, the executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, the non-profit group that broke ground on the Fort Greene affordable housing on Monday.

“[Atlantic Yards] pretty much eclipses significant portions of the building in all four seasons,” added de la Uz.


NoLandGrab: Looking beyond the Fifth Avenue Committee project, Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards megaproject threatens the viability of solar energy development for a significant part of the already existing neighborhood of Ft. Greene.

Posted by lumi at 7:43 AM

At the Brooklyn Bear's Garden, a Jacobs reminder

Atlantic Yards Report


At the not-so-quiet (and likely much more unquiet, whether or not the Atlantic Yards project moves ahead) Pacific Street and Flabush Avenue intersection, a poster for the Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibit.

While the Brooklyn Bear's Garden would remain, the rest of Site 5 would change dramatically under the AY plan; the big box Modell's and P.C. Richard stores would be replaced by a 250-foot building, originally announced at 400 feet.


Posted by lumi at 7:25 AM

October 21, 2007

not so superblock


Built Environment Blog

With the rise of New Urbanism and the canonization of Jane Jacobs, superblocks became a sort of urban design taboo – the quintessential example of high-minded architectural theory failing in real world application. Thus of the myriad flaws in the plan for Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, perhaps the most surprising, from a design perspective, is its return to the superblock form. In the words of the Manhattan Institute’s Julia Vitullo-Martin, “Do we not all agree with Jane Jacobs that the urbane mixtures of buildings of varying age, condition—inevitably swept away by the superblock—are a necessary condition of thriving urban life?”
Unfortunately, Olin’s talents do not always translate well into projects meant to integrate into the fabric of the city, rather than stand out from it. At Canary Wharf in London – like Atlantic Yards, a mixed-use high-rise development on a post-industrial site – the public spaces planned by Olin are impersonal and lack activity. Despite crowds of people working in the area, the wharf’s public spaces are often nearly deserted. (It’s said that the Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees is about Canary Wharf, even though the trees are real. For more criticism, see the Project for Public Space’s Hall of Shame.)
In his defense of the Atlantic Yards superblock, Olin ignores the lessons of Jacobs while also revealing a fundamental misunderstanding of Brooklyn’s streets. In vibrant neighborhoods like those surrounding Atlantic Yards, streets are more than a means of reaching a destination: they are the destinations themselves. Besides providing a place for cars to drive, Brooklyn’s streets host a diversity of restaurants, stores, and cultural institutions – all of which serve customers arriving via public transportation or on foot. Moreover, the borough often closes its avenues completely to traffic to host festivals and fairs, events that have helped to give Brooklyn the value that Ratner, the Atlantic Yards' developer, is so eager to capitalize on. By asserting that ‘space on streets is actually useless space,’ Olin demonstrates a profound ignorance regarding Brooklyn’s urban form.

Perhaps what is most surprising about the Atlantic Yards’ superblock plans isn’t the designers’ defense of the concept, but the support it has from its developer. Small blocks, Jacobs makes it clear, are better for business. If he knew better, Ratner would be pushing for more streets – not fewer. Indeed, the superblock is neither a pedestrian-friendly design statement nor a wise investment – it’s just a mistake.


Posted by amy at 10:36 AM

October 18, 2007

A new island: Hadid unveils radical plan for Bilbao

How do you say Develop Don't Destroy Bilbao en Español? Zaha Hadid's masterplan for the city's Zorrozaurre peninsula is making waves by doing exactly what Frank Gehry's Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn doesn't.


Hadid, who was awarded the project in 2003, initially met with resistance from residents when she suggested converting the peninsula into an island. "They feared they would be isolated from the rest of the city," said Ms Madrazo.


Over the next two years, as Hadid and her team worked with residents, local businesses and the regional government, the island's potential became clear. Added to locals' concerns were those of the Basque environment ministry that, if the peninsula was built on, it could easily be flooded, making the idea of a carefully designed island, with flood protection, even more attractive. As a result, the houses will be 4.7 metres above sea level and a canal will be joined on to the river Nervión, widening the riverbed to 75 metres, rather than the 50 metres originally planned.


But it was not just environmental concerns that dictated Zorrozaurre's redesign. The city was concerned not to destroy all of the old housing and businesses, many of which are being retained.


A quarter of the land has been given over to parks and recreation, and - crucial to the success of the project in the eyes of residents and the council - much of the housing will be low-cost. "This will not be an exclusive neighbourhood," said Ms Madrazo. There will be no uniformity in design, with buildings of various heights across the island.


NoLandGrab: Go figure... you would think that the prospect that Atlantic Yards might actually be built keeps starchitect Frank Gehry up at night.

Posted by lumi at 7:54 AM

October 11, 2007

Designing Public Consensus--it takes a lot more meetings

Atlantic Yards Report

So, the public really should be heard, right? That's the message of an article in the September issue of Metropolis, headlined Secretary to the Mob, and summarized as "Public-outreach specialist Barbara Faga really can’t complain about the growing democratization of design."

And the takeaway is that a good process would involve a lot more meetings than those leading to the approval of the Atlantic Yards plan. (That also suggests that the new UNITY plan is a start, not a conclusion.)


Posted by lumi at 10:00 AM

October 9, 2007

The missing Jane Jacobs chapter in The Power Broker

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder is participating on a panel this evening on "New Media, New Politics? Jane Jacobs and an Activist Press," sponsored by the Municipal Art Society.

JacobsMosesBooks.jpg Here's an excerpt from Oder's latest installment, based on his research into Jane Jacobs:

Now that Jane Jacobs is back in the news, with an exhibit at the Municipal Art Society, Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, we should look forward to a lot more research into her life.

The one extant biography, Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary, by Alice Sparberg Alexiou, was published last year. (Here's a review by the Regional Plan Association's Alex Marshall and a review by architectural historian Peter Laurence.)

It will soon be supplemented by two scholarly books about her and her era. And someday a long-lost portrait of the urbanist by Robert Moses biographer Robert Caro should surface.
In May, I observed that "The Power Broker, Robert Caro's monumental biography of Robert Moses, oddly omits any mention of Jane Jacobs, now thought of as Moses's polar opposite, and the successful citizen protest against Moses's 1950s attempt to run a highway through Washington Square Park."

I got a response from Ina Caro, the author's wife and research assistant, via his lecture agent, who wrote, "Over 30 years ago, when she typed the original manuscript for The Power Broker, there was a wonderful chapter on Jane Jacobs--as good, she thought, as the one on the Cross Bronx Expressway. Unfortunately, when the book was handed in it was one million words long and had to be cut by a third -- 300,000 words. Entire chapters were cut. One on the Brooklyn Dodgers and Moses, one on the Port Authority, one on the city planning commission, one on the Verrazano Narrow Bridge and one on Jane Jacobs. She hopes those pages are still in storage and can be read someday when a library acquires Mr. Caro's papers."

In other words, Caro, no slouch at research, didn't ignore this angle.

Posted by lumi at 10:38 AM

October 7, 2007

New York's soul lost? 'New York Calling' fills in some gaps


Atlantic Yards Report

At the discussion Wednesday, “Is New York Losing Its Soul?”, the first public program keyed to the Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibit, panelists expressed varying degrees of dismay over homogenization and rising rents, as well as a general feeling of impotence.

There’s a growing consensus that much of Manhattan and certain gentrified Brooklyn neighborhoods suffer from what Jane Jacobs called ‘over-success,’ as the ‘pioneers’ (of their social class more than anything else) are priced out if they weren’t lucky or smart or well-heeled enough to acquire permanent digs.
So the lively New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg, edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger, is particularly timely. As with the discussion on Wednesday, the book is light on crucial urban planning issues like housing policy, but it adds many worthy nuances and layers regarding the past 30 years.
As for Atlantic Yards, Berger is scathing: “Whatever happens—and the game is so rigged in favor of Ratner, it seems only the courts can stop or restraint him—the wounds are already deep, laying bare the mendacity that defines illiberal city (and state) politics.”


Posted by amy at 10:17 AM

October 5, 2007

Park Slope a great neighborhood, but then there's "over-success"

Atlantic Yards Report

While Norman Oder is on his way to become one of Brooklyn's foremost scholars on Jane Jacobs, he filters yesterday's announcement by the American Planning Association designating Park Slope as "one of 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2007" through Jacobsean lenses — the issues of "over-success" and "economic diversity."


Posted by lumi at 1:20 PM

October 4, 2007

Is New York losing its soul? Sort of, panelists say (and one targets AY)

Atlantic Yards Report


“Is New York Losing Its Soul?” was the topic last night in the first installment of the series of public programs keyed to the Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibit sponsored by the Municipal Art Society. The panelists at the Donnell Library auditorium, facing an audience of some 250 people, expressed varying degrees of dismay over homogenization and rising rents, as well as feelings of impotence in a developer-friendly city. And Atlantic Yards was again the poster child for unwelcome development.

Leading off, moderator Clyde Haberman, a New York Times Metro columnist, brought up the relentless march of chain banks and chain drugstores. “I suspect history will smile on the Bloomberg administration,” he said, but “it has yet to meet a developer to which it wishes to say no.” (That’s not quite true, given the administration’s posture toward Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities in Coney Island.) The one example he referenced—noting that panelist Alison Tocci of Time Out New York wanted to discuss it—was Atlantic Yards.


There was a post on the NY Times blog and an article in amNY about the forum.

City Room, Panel Discussion: Has New York Lost Its Soul?
amNY, Has NYC lost its soul?

Posted by lumi at 8:15 AM

October 2, 2007

Vitullo-Martin takes a second look at Jane Jacobs

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes a look at Julia Vitullo-Martin's second look at Jane Jacobs and first look at Atlantic Yards:

In the wake of the new exhibit, Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, urban analyst Julia Vitullo-Martin of the Manhattan Institute has been taking a fresh look at Jacobs and finding some flaws (and enduring value) in the famed urbanist's take on New York.

Notably, Vitullo-Martin suggests that Jacobs--or especially some who invoke her--didn't fully appreciate that towers, even uniform ones, might be needed to add density in a growing city. That sounds like a backhanded partial defense of the Atlantic Yards plan, but we know that Vitullo-Martin, as shown in the film Brooklyn Matters, is no fan of that project.

She has said "Atlantic Yards is throwing out every principle Jane Jacobs ever proposed” and, in reference to AY, called affordable housing "the Trojan Horse these days on big bad projects that shouldn’t get done."


Posted by lumi at 7:36 AM

Battery Park City

The NY Times

Project For Public Spaces' Fred Kent bashes the design of public spaces at Battery Park City:

Design,” Mr. Kent said, “is a disease. It is almost always at odds with good places.” And design, in his opinion, is what has ruined a potentially extraordinary place, the waterfront parks of Battery Park City.

Hailed as a triumph, favored with multiple design awards and imitated around the world, Battery Park City’s shiny new waterfront is one of Mr. Kent’s least favorite public places in New York. “It’s a mishmash of stuff that doesn’t fulfill human needs,” he said.

NoLandGrab: One of the multiple award-winning designers was landscape designer Laurie Olin, who is working on the publicly accessible open spaces at Atlantic Yards.

What he finds particularly irksome is that apart from the waterfront itself, two good destinations are located here, the Skyscraper Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, whose entrances seem deliberately hidden.

“Good public spaces,” Mr. Kent said, “should reach out like an octopus.”

He is certain that the community itself would have come up with a better design for Battery Park. His strategy is to go directly to a community and then translate those ideas and wishes into marching orders for designers. “It’s magical, how people know what to do with a place,” he said.


NoLandGrab: It's also magical that city planners and designers have to learn the same lessons over and over again, especially when community members, who have to suffer the consequences of bad design and would benefit greatly from thoughtful design, are so eager to pitch in.

Posted by lumi at 6:46 AM

September 28, 2007

No love for ‘UNITY’ from city, state

UNITY2007-BP.jpgThe Brooklyn Paper

City and state officials say they don’t intend to consider a community-based alternative development plan for the Prospect Heights site of Bruce Ratner’s controversial Atlantic Yards project that was unveiled this week.

The so-called UNITY proposal includes mostly affordable apartments, no arena and doesn’t require condemning land via eminent domain. But to be anything more than a few planners’ dream of ideal, community-driven development, support from city and state officials is necessary.

That support is not there.


NoLandGrab: This is news?

From day one, every move made by the City and State has furthered the goal of delivering the Atlantic Yards project into Bruce Ratner hands, via zoning overrides, subsidies, eminent domain and political favoritism.

Real news would have been if the ESDC and City had pulled up stakes on Atlantic Yards and started looking at the UNITY community-based plan.

Another piece in The Brooklyn Paper, "UNITY Plan: Why now?," explores two what-if scenarios that might make City and State officials (heck, maybe even Ratner?) take another look at some of the ideas in the UNITY 2007 plan.

But isn’t the Atlantic Yards deal done?

Yes, if you ask city and state officials. But even they admit that the real-estate market is a volatile beast.

But isn’t the real estate market hot hot hot?

Not exactly. Financial markets are tightening, making it harder for Ratner to line up investors. At the same time, tighter money means higher mortgage rates for his potential luxury buyers. Plus, there is a glut of luxury units coming on line, a factor that has already started to squeeze profit margins for high-end builders. any delays in construction cost Ratner $4.15 million a month in carrying costs.

Is there any other way the plan can be stopped?

Two lawsuits are percolating through the legal system: One is an eminent domain lawsuit charging that state planners abused the state’s condemnation power to line Ratner’s pockets. It was dismissed earlier this summer, but the federal appeal will be heard on Oct. 9. The other pending lawsuit challenges the project’s environmental review. It’s awaiting judgment in state court.

Posted by lumi at 12:07 PM

Jane Jacobs was wrong about a stadium, but Toronto ain't Brooklyn

Atlantic Yards Report

Skydome.jpgJane Jacobs admitted she was wrong about the Toronto stadium, but would she have approved of Atlantic Yards?

Norman Oder poses the question to himself:

A 5/31/93 New York Times profile of Jacobs... reported:

Because the Sky Dome is amid downtown office buildings with ample parking and easily accessible by public transit, it did not require the sort of vast parking lots that turn the areas surrounding most stadiums into wastelands. The Sky Dome also incorporates stores and hotels that make it active even during the off season.

"Before it was built, I had thought that would be a terrible site for a stadium, blighting the area like other stadiums," Mrs. Jacobs admits. "But I was wrong. I am wrong plenty of times, you know.

But the site in downtown Toronto did not border a residential neighborhood, as in Brooklyn and could rely on empty office parking rather than nearly 1600 spaces of interim surface parking.


Posted by lumi at 11:50 AM

The road not taken: City Council limits high-rise buildings... on the Upper West Side

Atlantic Yards Report

From a New York Times article Wednesday headlined Council Approves Plan to Limit High-Rises on Upper West Side:

The City Council unanimously passed a rezoning plan yesterday that limits the spread of high-rise buildings along 51 blocks on the Upper West Side, an area that officials say has undergone a significant increase in development.

The plan is intended to preserve the physical character of the community. It generally limits buildings to 14 stories along Broadway; 10 to 11 stories along the other avenues; and 6 to 7 stories on the side streets. Additionally, it imposes design restrictions so that new developments more closely match the neighborhoods around them. ...
By contrast, for the Atlantic Yards project, the state will override zoning, to which City Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden concurs, explaining last February, "Tall buildings are aspirational... We’re a city that welcomes growth, we welcome innovation.”


Posted by lumi at 10:39 AM

September 26, 2007

The great Jane debate: Opening salvo

BruceJacobs.jpg Time Out NY Blog

After reading portions of Jane Jacobs' “Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Dustin Goot from the Time Out NY blog has heard enough to declare that “Jane Jacobs would approve of Atlantic Yards,” though he admits he’s not “intimately familiar with the plans.:

If you’ve looked on newsstands at all this week, you know that we’ve posed the question, “Has Manhattan lost its soul?” (and attempted to answer it). What you may not know is that our criteria for assessing the “soul” of each neighborhood derived largely from the ideas of Jane Jacobs, the famous urbanist–Robert Moses opponent–West Village savior. We did some research on her and everything. To wit, many of us read (portions of) The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her seminal 1961 tome on what makes cities work. The book puts forward some interesting assertions about what’s good for cities (e.g., parks tend to be useless), and sparked a lot of discussion among the edit staff. So we thought it would be fun to draw out that exchange and share it with you, our beloved readers. (There will be multiple updates later today and tomorrow.)

Since the goal is to make this interesting, I’m starting it controversially: I think J.J. would approve of Atlantic Yards. Actually, she was a cranky broad who no doubt would have found many faults with it. Let me rephrase. I think Atlantic Yards largely follows Jacobs’s principles and would enliven that neighborhood in a way she would admire.

Let’s look at it through the J.J. lens. That neighborhood right now is an ugly traffic confluence and not much else. It’s full of chain stores and terrible for pedestrian traffic. Atlantic Yards would add an amenity where there is none. Though I’m not intimately familiar with the plans, I know it includes extensive mixed-use and varied street-level commercial space, along with many residential units (and a hotel, I believe). It would increase the density of that area, as Jacobs prefers.


NoLandGrab: That’s so-o-o-o-o keuwt! Thanks for being honest Dustin, we would have NEVER figured out that you weren't "intimately familiar with the plans" by reading your curious Jacobsian defense of Bruce Ratner's megaproject.

For the record, Jacobs submitted a friend of the court brief in favor of the homeowners in the landmark eminent domain case of Kelo vs. New London; she was highly skeptical of removing streets to create gigantic superblocks; and she would have figured out by now that it’s an “arena,” not a “stadium,” which would represent only a fraction of the entire largest-single-source private “megaproject” in the history of NYC. Call it a hunch, but we highly doubt that she would have favored increasing the density of the neighborhood to the extent that it would be more than two times the density of the densest residential community in the nation.

Also, the chain stores Dustin cites are owned by Bruce Ratner. Though they may seem blighted, they are not part of the Atlantic Yards plan and there isn't much hope that Atlantic Yards would be very different.

We could go on, but that's really Norman Oder's job. [Click here for his response to Dustin's post and subsequent commentary.]

Posted by lumi at 10:15 PM

We are all Jacobsian now--but what about process?

Atlantic Yards Report

jjmedal.jpgNorman Oder reports on Monday's reception and awards ceremony, which was keyed to the opening of the Jane Jacobs exhibit at the Municipal Art Society. Oder examines many of the movers, players and shakers in attendance:

At the ceremony Monday, Jacobs medal winner Omar Freilla, founder of Green Worker Cooperative in the Bronx, in his acceptance speech, talked about how reading Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities “resonated with a lot of of what I’m feeling.” Jacobs bequeathed “a love of humanity and a love of democracy,” an inspiration to his own work for environmental justice and economic development, aiming to establish a facility to transform construction waste “green collar” jobs.

Freilla, however, challenged the general air of civic self-satisfaction. “Do we have a say in our lives and decisions?” he asked. The answer: infrequently. It was a bracing reminder of the importance of process and one that Jacobs, I’d imagine, would have applauded.


Posted by lumi at 8:42 AM

Tish James on the UNITY plan

James-JB.jpgAtlantic Yards Report

The UNITY plan launched yesterday may not have the backing of numerous public officials, but it does have Council Member Letitia James, the elected official most prominent in opposition to Atlantic Yards. Since I missed her appearance at yesterday's press conference, I asked her for a comment.

She said that UNITY "truly respects the character of this historic community. Open space and low-rise residential growth reflect the wishes of community residents regarding what should be built over the rail yards. The community and I do not oppose development, just eminent domain abuse and out-of-scale buildings."


Posted by lumi at 7:34 AM

SATURDAY — WALKING TOUR: The Atlantic Yards Footprint and Environs

Center For the Living City

Meeting Location: In front of Williamsburgh Savings Bank, tallest building in Brooklyn, Hanson Place at Ashland Place

Time: Saturday, Sept 29 2 PM
Tour Guides: Ron Shiffman and Norman Oder

Walk this area of Brooklyn with Ron Shiffman, planner and founder, Pratt Center for Community and Environmental Development (PICCED) and former New York City Planning Commissioner and Norman Oder, the journalist behind the Atlantic Yards Report and veteran New York City tour guide.The walk reveals the historic and political context behind the controversial Atlantic Yards plan—beginning at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn, where the borough’s tallest building is being converted to luxury condos, a dip into the embryonic Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) arts district, a peek at revitalized Fort Greene. The walk will then take in the fruits of urban redevelopment—1970s tower apartments, 1990s low-rise housing, and two malls—before traversing the footprint itself in Prospect Heights.

The walk, which will last at least two hours, provides an opportunity to discuss highly-charged elements of the Atlantic Yards design, including significant density, the creation of superblocks, the challenge of creating (and paying for) affordable housing, and the possibility of persistent interim surface parking. An update on legal challenges to the project will also be provided.

Ron Shiffman founded PICCED and still teaches urban planning at the Pratt Institute. He is on the advisory board of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the coalition leading opposition to the Atlantic Yards project.

Norman Oder has written a comprehensive and often critical blog about the project for the past two years; his Atlantic Yards Report has broken numerous stories. A licensed New York City tour guide, he has operated New York Like A Native, which specializes in walking tours of Brooklyn, since 2000.

"Atlantic Yards Photo Map" by Tracy Collins, from his photo book "Atlantic Yards, [De]Constuction of the Neighborhood"

Posted by lumi at 7:25 AM

Seeing the city through Jane Jacobs’ eyes

Reporter Amy Zimmer checks out the Municipal Art Society's Jane Jacobs exhibit:

The exhibit’s project manager, Tim Mennel, said the show isn’t really about Jacobs — the journalist, activist and West Village resident whose 1961 book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” celebrated community participation over professional planners’ superblocks. “We want people to walk out and say, ‘OK, what am I going to do?’”

The Municipal Art Society is an advocacy organization, not a museum. “[The exhibit is] a jumping off point to get people involved in asking questions about the city now,” considering large-scale developments such as Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards project.
Pointing to that supermarket, Mennel said, “Practically every neighborhood wants a little gentrification. But something Jane Jacobs talked about is ‘oversuccess,’” — when dynamic neighborhoods start attracting more money and change. This idea is discussed by developers like Douglas Durst in of one of the seven public programs and eight walking tours accompanying the exhibit.


NoLandGrab: Norman Oder and Ron Shiffman's walking tour of "The Atlantic Yards Footprint and Environs" is this Saturday. Details here.

Posted by lumi at 7:25 AM

September 25, 2007

UNITY 2007 Photos

UNITY2007Window.jpg UNITY 2007
Community Forum
September 24th, 2007

[Click hyperlinks below, to view more images from yesterday's forum.]

By consulting and working with stakeholders first, participants in UNITY2007 turned the Atlantic Yards process upside down.

Passersby can view the UNITY2007 window exhibit at the Soapbox Gallery.

University of Cincinnati architecture professor Marshall Brown talked about the collaborative design process and the architecture and planning sections of UNITY2007.

Pages from the UNITY2007 report and photos of the April 2007 UNITY workshop by Jonathan Barkey are part of the Soapbox Gallery exhibit.

In a photo of more Barkey than we bargained for, the photographer was captured wrapped in a projection of one of his own photos.

Posted by lumi at 2:39 PM

Jane Jacobs, Foe of Plans and Friend of City Life

JacobsMAs-NYT.jpgThe NY Times
By Edward Rothstein

Since NYC is on the precipice of radical change in some neighborhoods, now is as good a time as any to revisit Jane Jacobs. "Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York" opens today at the Municipal Art Society:

Under Jacobs’s influence, there arose new ways of thinking about cities; community groups became active participants in city planning, and new developments started to take street life into account. Jacobs died in 2006, receiving encomiums from both the political right and left.

But as New York seems to be revving up for another generation of urban development — including the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s environmental projects — as new neighborhoods have taken shape, like Battery Park City, and old ones change in function and status, like Dumbo in Brooklyn, the issues that Jacobs and her opponents raised remain as vital as ever.


Two heads up:

  1. "Last year’s series of major exhibitions about Moses at the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art and Columbia University," was actually early THIS year.

  2. The Times critic mischaracterizes Jane Jacobs's mistrust of 20-Century city planning orthodoxy. Rothstein states, "Jane Jacobs did not believe that planners could ever restore life to American cities. Instead she put her faith in the chaos of urban life, in diversity, in people."

This is the enduring characterization Jacobs, but a closer reading of the Introduction of , "Death and Life of Great American Cities," will reminds us that first and foremost Jacobs was promoting an observational approach to planning, where the qualities of a successful community could be measured, studied and allowed to persist.

On page 13 she writes:

"The pseudoscience of city planning and its companion, the art of city design, have not yet broken with the specious comfort of wishes, familiar superstitions, oversimplifications, and symbols, and have not yet embarked upon the adventure of probing the real world."

Simply, she was promoting the idea of introducing the scientific method to the art and science of urban planning, and, from real study, deriving an understanding of what really works.

Jacobs even understood and hoped that her own observations and ideas would be "corrected" in the future when she wrote ("Death and Life," page 16), " I hope any reader of this book will constantly and skeptically test what I say against his own knowledge of cities and their behavior. If I have been inaccurate in observations or mistaken in inferences and conclusions, I hope these faults will be quickly corrected," which is probably more than we can expect from the NY Times.

Posted by lumi at 1:20 PM

Who are the buildings in your neighborhood?

TC-474DeanSt.jpgA charming yellow clapboard townhouse is a building in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood,
in your neigh-bor-hoo-ood.

Meet 474 Dean Street, a three-story clapboard townhouse across the street from the footprint of Bruce Ratner's arena superblock. If Ratner has his way, this three-story 1,800 sq-ft house will be facing the south side of the Nets arena and Building 3, which, at a planned height of approximately 21 stories-high, would be the shortest high-rise on the arena superblock.

According to the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement, "the New York City Zoning Resolution prohibits arenas within 200 feet of residential districts as some of the operations could be incompatible with districts limited primarily to residential use." Because the State of NY is using its power to supercede the NYC Zoning Resolution, Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards plan circumvents this regulation.

In other words, the Atlantic Yards plan goes beyond the Manhattanization of Brooklyn, because even in Manhattan, you will not find an arena across the street from a home, such as 474 Dean St.

Photo by Tracy Collins, via Atlantic Yards Photo Pool.

Posted by lumi at 12:10 PM

UNITY 2007: a new, Jacobsian plan for the Vanderbilt Yard

Atlantic Yards Report


At the same time last night that the legacy of noted urban thinker Jane Jacobs was being celebrated at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan, a prelude to an exhibit opening today, the much more modest Soapbox Gallery in Prospect Heights hosted a community forum introducing the UNITY (Understanding, Imagining and Transforming the Yards) plan, a much more Jacobsian way to develop the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard.

The idea is that if Atlantic Yards does not get built as planned, or is scotched altogether, an alternative plan, with significant bulk but not “extreme density,” limited to the railyards and an adjacent plot, could emerge.

According to a draft report issued by its organizers, planners and architects engaged under the banner of AY critics and opponents, UNITY would offer “a larger proportion of truly affordable housing, sustainable jobs and start-up businesses for local residents, improved transit, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, solutions to neighborhood and downtown traffic problems, accessible public open space that connects the Yards with our neighborhoods, and a planning and development process that is transparent and accountable.”

Notably, the tallest and bulkiest buildings would be moved east, to Vanderbilt Avenue, while the triangle of land between Flatbush, Fifth, and Atlantic Avenue, currently slated for the Urban Room and part of the Miss Brooklyn tower, would be used for a park.


NoLandGrab: Norman Oder couldn't make the 6pm UNITY forum and missed the question from a Prospect Heights resident concerning why the tallest building would be located at the corner of Atlantic and Vanderbilt.

Marshall Brown explained that the model illustrated the concept that the corner of Atlantic and Vanderbilt could handle higher density. The tall building is only a representation of how that could be achieved. It doesn't necessarily mean that the building would have to be taller in order to achieve that goal.

Posted by lumi at 10:14 AM

Atlantic Yards Opponents Re-introduce `Unity Plan’

They Predict Ratner Will Lose Lawsuits Challenging Project

UNITYPC-Geberer.jpgBrooklyn Daily Eagle's Raanan Geberer treks through the footprint of Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards plan to attend the unveiling of the latest incarnation of UNITY:

Right across the street from the shrouded former Ward Bakery building, slated for demolition, where workers were doing preliminary work, a group of opponents of Atlantic Yards gathered to unveil an update of an alternative proposal, the Unity Plan developed by architect Marshall Brown back in 2004.

The updated proposal is the result of several community workshops earlier this year. Like the original Unity Plan, it would contain both residential and commercial development, it would contain a large amount of affordable housing (now, 60 percent). It would be lower-rise than Atlantic Yards (the tallest building would rise 400 feet), and it would confine itself to the area directly over the Long Island Railroad’s Vanderbilt Railyards.


Posted by lumi at 9:34 AM

September 22, 2007

Group has alternative to Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-development


The Brooklyn Paper
Gersh Kuntzman

‘Unity’ vs. Ratner

The latest incarnation of a community-based “Unity” Plan for the Atlantic Yards site will be publicly unveiled next week — but The Brooklyn Paper got a sneak peak at a draft. Here’s how it compares to Bruce Ratner’s proposal.

Unity plan
Footprint: Eight acres
Total housing units (percent “affordable”): 1,500 (60 percent)
Tallest building: Less than 400 feet
Amount of open space: 4.5 acres
Basketball arena? No arena.
Requires condemnation of private property? No.

Ratner plan
Footprint: 22 acres
Total housing units (percent “affordable”): 6,430 (35 percent)
Tallest building: 511 feet (“Miss Brooklyn”)
Amount of open space: Eight acres
Basketball arena? 18,000-seat arena.
Requires condemnation of private property? Yes.

The “Unity” Plan will be presented publicly on Monday, Sept. 24 at the Soapbox Gallery (636 Dean St., between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues), 6 pm.


Posted by amy at 8:00 AM

September 21, 2007

Is Jane Jacobs Passé?

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
By Henrik Krogius

JaneJacobsLens-sep.jpgAs usual, Atlantic Yards supporters, including the project's own designer, serve up Jane Jacobs à la carte, to justify the superblock plan of unprecedented (that means "historic") density. And when supporters can't pound Jane Jacobs' square peg into Atlantic Yards's round hole, they dismiss her observations as "passé:"

The many elements of the Jacobs recipe came out of a minutely observed urban microcosm that she found both stimulating and congenial. So infectious was her enthusiasm for her true city that even Frank Gehry, in a presentation on Atlantic Yards, invoked the spirit of Jane Jacobs as figuring in its planning.

Now, Atlantic Yards is of course seen by many of its critics as just the kind of project Jacobs opposed. They see its size, the height of its buildings as inimical to the neighborhood quality she championed. The pedestrian-penetrable aspect of the Atlantic Yards layout and the street-level shops touted by Gehry are in the critics’ eyes no compensation for the overall size. They see a violation of Brooklyn’s traditional character. What they prefer not to think of is that Brooklyn, after all, is part of New York City — a still relatively young city famous more for its dynamically changing character than for its lasting monuments. We are somewhere between Europe, where the aged cores of cities are to a considerable degree unalterable, and Asia, where cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Bombay (now Mumbai) have kicked over most recognizable traces of their past.

In today’s world of exploding, skyward-reaching cities, strict Jane Jacobsism is hardly tenable. Which is not to say that all of her ideas are obsolete. Walkability, an active street life, a diversity of uses can be incorporated into large-scale projects so that they avoid the sterility of the “skyscraper in a park” model. This was clearly on Gehry’s mind when he invoked Jacobs.


Posted by lumi at 8:39 AM

September 19, 2007

Jane's Walks coming in two weeks, including one on AY

Atlantic Yards Report


The Center for the Living City, founded in the spirit of Jane Jacobs, on Saturday, September 29 and Sunday, September 30, will offer "Jane's Walks," a "series of free neighborhood strolls that emphasize the walkable and diverse nature of New York City."

The only Brooklyn one will concern Atlantic Yards, and I'll be leading it, with Center affiliate Ron Shiffman. (The walks will resume next spring; undoubtedly there are many Jacobsian walks to be found in the borough.)

The press release states:

As Jane Jacobs noted, people who live or work in the community know it best and can offer insights and observations that no professional can. Moreover, “Jane’s Walk” honors her belief that healthy cities feature walkable, compact, dense and diverse neighborhoods. These characteristics in turn help knit people together into a strong, connected and resourceful community.

The walks are part of a larger celebration of Jacobs’ work, including an exhibition, “Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York,” opening September 25 at the Municipal Art Society.

(Photo of Dean Street in the Atlantic Yards footprint by Adrian Kinloch.)
One apt term I've learned from Jacobs is the notion of the "oversuccessful city." A free walking tour on a nice day might bring large crowds and pose a very interesting challenge.


Posted by lumi at 7:22 AM

Making Coney Island Green

Gotham Gazette
By Tom Angotti

Hunter College Urban Planning professor Tom Angotti outlines some issues and options for smart redevelopment of Coney Island, including how a Nets arena option might work.


And why not put the arena for the Nets basketball team in Coney Island, as planner Simon Bertrang proposes? Two previous studies recommended Coney Island as a location for a professional arena, and until recently that view was held by Brooklyn’s political establishment. Wouldn’t the 18,000 seat arena that the basketball team’s owner, Forest City Ratner, now proposes to cram in between the Prospect Heights and Fort Greene neighborhoods make more sense nested in Coney Island’s amusement area?

If this were to happen — the Nets could lose $35 million every year the Atlantic Yards project is delayed — a Coney Island arena should not go the way of the New York Aquarium, which is isolated from the amusement park. Nor should it be dropped in next to Keyspan Park, thereby creating a big enclave of professional facilities. But if properly designed, the home court for the Nets could be physically integrated with Coney Island’s recreational facilities.


Atlantic Yards Report, The Coney Island arena option (and Newark, too)

Norman Oder acknowledges Professor Angotti's point on the theoretical location of a Coney Island arena, and then uses up two of his allotted twenty questions:

About the location, Angotti has a good point, and one I and other critics should have acknowledged earlier. But would the Gateway site in Coney Island be better? That's not in the amusement area. So where might the arena go?

If the Atlantic Yards plan fails or is scuttled, the Nets, I'll bet, will move to the new arena opening next month in Newark.

Posted by lumi at 6:25 AM

MONDAY: The Unity Plan for Brooklyn’s Vanderbilt Yards

UNITYBanner.gif • 212-650-3328 •

What if Atlantic Yards is not built?
What if it's only partly built?
Then what?

Please join us for the presentation of UNITY
A realistic, community-sensitive proposal for the development of Brooklyn’s Vanderbilt rail yards.

Press Conference
11 AM, Monday, September 24th
Presentation by project designers Marshall Brown, Ronald Shiffman, and Dr. Tom Angotti

Community Forum
6 PM, Monday, September 24th
Presentation and Q&A with Marshall Brown and Dr. Tom Angotti

The Soapbox Gallery
636 Dean Street (between Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues) Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Take the 4, 5, B, or M trains to Atlantic Avenue
Take the D, M, N or R trains to Pacific Street
Take the 2 or 3 trains to Bergen Street

View Larger Map

Posted by lumi at 6:18 AM

September 14, 2007

"Listening to the City" and Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder ponders Thomas Bender's article in Democracy, a Journal of Ideas, "Power Broken: To build great cities, we need more citizen input - not another Robert Moses," and wonders, "Would the Atlantic Yards project have been improved--or would a different development have emerged--had there been more citizen input?"

What if the Vanderbilt Railyards or Atlantic Yards footprint had undergone a public planning exercize as was conducted in Lower Manhattan?

In Brooklyn, could there have been such an exercise? What would the "site" have been, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard or Forest City Ratner's 21-acre (later 22-acre) "footprint"? If an arena was at issue, should alternate sites have be considered, like Coney Island?

How trade off density and cost, market-rate and subsidized units? Even the post-Atlantic Yards UNITY plan workshops came up with a design for the railyard that proved not completely feasible, at least if you consider the subsequent Extell bid, which implied more density.

The most recent UNITY exercise suggested some very affordable housing--but how to pay for it? (Stay tuned for a revamped UNITY plan to be released on Sep. 24.)

Those in the public who support Forest City Ratner's vision believe that the benefits are worth the costs; opponents say the opposite. But how to evaluate those costs and benefits without consideration of larger issues like the overall opportunities for density and affordable housing in the city and borough?

At the very least, though, some competing plans or even frameworks could have dispelled the "Atlantic Yards or nothing" meme that still persists. (Imagine if the process had begun with an RFP from the MTA, rather than have the agency issue one belatedly, 18 months after the project was announced.)


Posted by lumi at 8:43 PM

Does New York Need a ‘New Moses’?

Streets Blog

RobertMosesAY.jpgA critic of Robert Moses revisionism cites Atlantic Yards as an example of how large projects can get done even with "a great deal of public discussion and review" — no kidding:

[NYU's Thomas] Bender disputes the neo-Mosesist claim that dependence on public process has lead to "urban paralysis," bogging down public works and stifling growth. Instead of Moses clones, Bender argues that cities need better ways to accept and utilize public input.

While it's hard to disagree with that, Bender missteps by citing the progression of Atlantic Yards and Hudson Yards as rebuttals to the Mosesist ethic. Of the former, Bender writes:

Today, the recently approved Atlantic Yards project, a huge mixed-use development in central Brooklyn including an arena for professional basketball, proceeds, after a great deal of public discussion and review (albeit a controversial one) by government bureaucracies.

It would be difficult to find many people, if any at all, from the public advocacy arena who would say Atlantic Yards has been anything other than a developer-driven monster from day one, with enough backroom machinations and public bullying to rank among Moses's most notorious projects. And though the reviled plan for a far West Side Jets football stadium was defeated, as Bender points out, neighborhood residents are suing the Bloomberg administration over its Moses-like quest to include over 20,000 parking spaces as part of new Hudson Yards development.

In fact, with unpopular projects like Atlantic Yards, Willets Point and the new Yankee Stadium surging forward, one could make the case that a new Moses era has long been underway.


Posted by lumi at 6:09 AM

DOT hires Jan Gehl to evaluate streets; urbanist critiqued Ratner's Brooklyn

Atlantic Yards Reports reports on StreetsBlog's report that:

the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) has hired the firm of Danish urbanist Jan Gehl to evaluate city streets and other public spaces in "Major pedestrian and commercial corridors in Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan."

Gehl himself famously walked around Downtown Brooklyn on a cold morning in November 2005, expressing dismay at the sterility of Forest City Ratner's MetroTech and skepticism about the developer's plans for Atlantic Yards.

Ezra Goldstein of the Park Slope Civic Council's Civic News did a good job of capturing Gehl's take, in an article headlined Plan for Life. The Gehl formula quoted differs from the sequence behind Atlantic Yards:

Instead of planning large buildings and then working down, he said, “you look first at the space you want to develop and ask what kind of life can be envisaged there. Then you ask what kind of public space will create that life. And only then do you design the buildings that create the public space you want.


NoLandGrab: Gehl describes a process where the proverbial cart is hitched behind the horse.

Meanwhile back in Gotham, NYC is tilting toward one direction, while Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards seeks to manifest mistakes of the past. However, since the 22-acre Atlantic Yards is the largest single-source private development project in NYC history, and proposes to be the most dense residential community in the nation, surely, if the project is allowed to procede, it will tip the balance.

Posted by lumi at 5:56 AM

September 11, 2007

Atlantic Yards through a Jacobsian lens

Atlantic Yards Report


The exhibition Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York won't open at the Municipal Art Society until September 25, but the companion web site launched yesterday, immediately providing some food for thought: while Atlantic Yards might subscribe to at least one of Jacobs's principles, it would violate others.

The exhibit, accompanying programs, and attendant commentary undoubtedly will stimulate discussion of the relevance (and limits) of Jacobs' penetrating vision. I'm sure there will be several opportunities to view Atlantic Yards through a Jacobsian lens (and the lenses of her critics).

Norman Oder seeks some answers from the writings of Jane Jacobs on the question of how much "density" is sustainable and the oppressive impact of "superblocks."


Posted by lumi at 8:33 AM

September 8, 2007

On journalistic criticism, process, and governmental competence

Atlantic Yards Report

The Regional Plan Association (RPA) has offered praise and criticism of Atlantic Yards, citing the importance of density near a transit hub. In testimony last August, the RPA offered measured support for the project:
In this instance, however, it would not be in the public interest to start from scratch. Even an improved process should still likely result in a project approximating the scale and ambition of the Forest City Ratner proposal. The city and the region need to aggressively develop offices, housing, retail and entertainment in appropriate locations, and there are few locations more suited for dense, mixed-use development than the Atlantic Yards.

I think that's speculative, since an improved process would involve many more voices. Also, the statement that "the Atlantic Yards" is suited for development fudges the difference between development over the railyards and development over adjacent blocks.

Atlantic Yards would be 292 apartments per acre--"extreme density" compared to Stuyvesant Town, Battery Park City, and even new projects like the New Domino and Queens West.

What's the limit? That hasn't been discussed.

Posted by amy at 10:15 AM

September 7, 2007

Coming: the Jane Jacobs exhibit and discussions; AY gets some notice

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder previews the upcoming exhibit on Jane Jacobs, presented by the Municipal Art Society:


If earlier this year we encountered a reassessment of Robert Moses, soon we’ll have a chance to examine his one-time antagonist, author and activist Jane Jacobs, whose 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities took on an entire generation of urban planners.

The Municipal Art Society (MAS), with sponsorship from the Rockefeller Foundation—which funded Jacobs and now funds medals in her honor—will on Sept. 25 open the “Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York” exhibit. MAS then will host several panels regarding Jacobs’s relevance today, three of which will touch on Atlantic Yards.

(A web site for the exhibit will go live on September 10.)

AY effect?

While there’s no clue yet what the exhibit might say about Atlantic Yards, the press release hints at potential criticism. “The project presents the principles and activism of Jane Jacobs and challenges New York City residents to study the use of their city, its streets and the built environment,” said Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. “The project inspires citizens to support and fight for the health of their own neighborhoods, and it encourages city officials, developers, planners and architects to embrace and implement Jane Jacobs’ teachings.”

The MAS itself has not joined the main Atlantic Yards opposition, steering clear of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and its lawsuits, but has spearheaded the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, which began last year and called for major changes in the project, hoping for some political and community leverage. Some of BrooklynSpeaks' criticisms, including the need for the project to "respect and integrate with the surrounding neighborhoods," reflect Jacobs' influence.

Several programs being held in conjunction with the exhibit feature Atlantic Yards notables, including Norman Oder, architect Marshall Brown, former City Planning Commish Ron Shiffman, Brooklyn Speaks coalition member Michelle de la Uz, and project supporter and Daily News columnist Errol Louis. There are more details in Oder's post.


Posted by lumi at 8:08 AM

September 5, 2007

In Seattle, Neighbor Power; in New York, too much neighbor rancor

Atlantic Yards Report

NeighborPower.jpgNorman Oder's latest book report leads him to wonder if neighborhood empowerment could work in NYC — according to planning organizations, the idea isn't that farfetched:

Given the contentiousness around development in New York, especially Brooklyn, it's refreshing to read Neighbor Power, by Jim Diers, who in 1988, was appointed by Seattle Mayor Charles Royer to head the city's new Office of Neighborhoods. That's right--an office concerned with neighborhoods. Diers was reappointed by the subsequent mayors and, after his 14-year tenure, the four-person office had grown into a Department of Neighborhoods with 100 staff.

Some constrasts
The question is: how might that translate in New York City? Not directly, given that the average neighborhood in Seattle has 5000 residents. (That would make Atlantic Yards, if built as planned, nearly three neighborhoods.)

The concepts have value. Seattle, which learned from St. Paul, MN, and Portland, OR, has seen its examples emulated: neighborhood matching fund programs in Houston, Detroit, Cleveland, and neighborhood service centers in Baltimore and San Diego.

There's a big caveat; this doesn't mean that neighborhoods are ensured a role in development plans, the hot issue in New York, but it implies that neighborhoods are worth listening to. "Government must learn to see neighborhoods not only as places with great needs, but as communities with tremendous resources," Diers writes.


Posted by lumi at 8:19 AM

September 3, 2007

Postcard From Denver - A New Urbanism

The Hindu

This article has much praise for the Stapleton mixed-use Denver development. This is the development promoted by Forest City as its own good example in designing a community from scratch using concepts from the New Urbanism movement:

In looks, reborn Stapleton would be a suburb, its homes resembling old Denver buildings. The differences would be deliberate: community living will grow out of a compulsory front porch for sitting out; smaller lots ensuring density; public parks; sidewalks with tree lawns for pedestrian activity; village shops and restaurants within walking distance; workplaces and cultural venues close to housing. In all, walkable neighborhoods where bumping into neighbours is inevitable. No garage doors as the dominant house facade, little private (or not so private) open space in the rear, no strip shopping centres with a sea of parking, no commute to workplaces that are miles (or hours) away.

Meanwhile, here in Brooklyn, FCR is trying to destroy a community that already exists in Prospect Heights. Instead of innovative design and public input, Atlantic Yards features an outmoded super-block design, street closures, miniscule "public spaces" and a planning process that blocks community involvement at every turn.


Posted by steve at 8:59 AM

September 1, 2007

Facing change with vision and a transparent approach... in Canada

Atlantic Yards Report

While in Nova Scotia, Norman Oder finds a set of planning principles spelled out in "Seek", the Planning and Design Centre's official Newsletter. These are planning processes that Brooklynites can only dream about.

Quoted is the mission of the Planning and Design Centre:

The Planning and Design Centre is a store-front operation that makes planning and design visible, open to discussion and sources of innovation. It is seen as a collaborative enterprise, common ground and a think tank that brings together the public, the business community, the development industry, and different levels of government for a tangible purpose.

Vision HRM mission is the governmental part of the process. Part of its mission is quoted:

The Community Visioning Process is intended to allow a community to determine its own priorities; priorities which will guide the community into the future. The visioning process will not only focus on land use or planning issues, but will respond to a broader range of community concerns and opportunities crossing over many of HRM’s areas of program and service. The visioning process will therefore foster more meaningful problem solving and action planning.

Norman ends with this inspiring quote from "Seek":

The future does not just happen, it is not predicted or projected or incrementally negotiated, or a simple extension of the past. We can have a hand in shaping it. Planning is about establishing a vision, setting a direction and taking informed strategic action. It is not restrictive or mysterious. It cannot be imposed nor can it be seen as the exclusive realm of professionals. It needs to be a process and an approach that is open and inclusive and part of everyday life. Similarly, design quality as it is reflected in every proposal, development and policy cannot be seen as a luxury, expensive or optional. We have to expect and demand creativity, quality and excellence.


Posted by steve at 8:18 AM

The Scoop on Poop

Dope on the Slope

baby_on_toilet.jpg An upcoming reading of "Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product" is likely to include the impact of Atlantic Yards on sewer infrastructure.

The Scoop on Poop

Here's an event you won't want to miss. Dave Praeger, author of "Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product," will be reading from his book at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, September 5, 7:00 PM. Despite the cheeky title, the book is a meticulously researched treatise on how changes in human waste disposal technology have altered the broader culture. In the author's own words:

Poop Culture is a funny book, of course. Given the subject, how could it not be? But it's also a heavily researched analysis of something that rarely receives serious consideration. Poop Culture's main focus is the true origin of the flush toilet: invented not for sanitary reasons, as conventional wisdom holds, but rather as a tool to help rich Victorians separate themselves from the upwardly-mobile masses during the Industrial Revolution. From that basis, Poop Culture explores how the ideology of waste disposal affects us today in our psychology, sociology, art, economics, the environment, and more.

I'll be touching on many of those issues on during my reading. Chances are I'll even touch on the sewage issues in the Gowanus during storms and the reported potential for the Atlantic Yards to overwhelm the area's sewage capacity. It'll be a fun and fascinating (and rated PG) event.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the reading. However, the author has agreed to be interviewed by me for a podcast which should air sometime next week. Stay tuned.


Posted by steve at 7:45 AM

August 30, 2007

New downtown? The Atlantic Yards office space, in DC context

Atlantic Yards Report


In honor of yesterday's shortsighted Wall Street Journal article on Atlantic Yards office space, it's worth a look at how big that office space might be. Remember, when it was proposed on 12/10/03, Atlantic Yards was to contain 2.1 million square feet of office space, as "New York City requires... additional office space to create and retain new jobs."

But those four office towers, which led columnist Andrea Peyser to rhapsodize about 10,000 office jobs, have mostly been traded for condos. After two rounds of cuts, the proposed Atlantic Yards office space now would cover 336,000 square feet, with space for 1340 jobs and likely 375 new jobs.

That's hardly the new downtown some have claimed for Atlantic Yards, especially since there's no need, as yet, for all the office space proposed in the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning. Atlantic Yards would consist of an arena, a mixed-use office/condo/hotel tower, plus a residential complex--a latter-day Stuyvesant Town, much more dense but at least with retail in the base of the buildings.

Norman Oder sizes up Atlantic Yards office space using DC as an example.


Posted by lumi at 7:50 AM

August 29, 2007

Our lagging infrastructure, the mismatch with municipalities, and the AY (bad) example

Atlantic Yards Report

There's been a lot of concern about crumbling infrastructure in America's cities. What's being done, or not done? Why? How did Atlantic Yards become the posterproject for misplaced priorities?

Norman Oder connnects the dots:

A bridge collapse in Minneapolis and a steam-pipe explosion in Manhattan serve as a jumping-off point for a lengthy New Republic essay by architecture critic Sarah Williams Goldhagen, headlined American Collapse (subscribers only).


And, yes, Atlantic Yards eventually surfaces as a bad example of a public-private partnership that skirts real public needs. Both she and Joel Kotkin, an analyst writing in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, point to an unhealthy municipal focus on sports facilities and other sideshows.

Atlantic Yards Report
Wall St. Journal, via, Road Work
The New Republic, American Collapse (subscribers only)

Posted by lumi at 8:51 AM

August 19, 2007

Superblocks, a massacre in Newark, and Jane Jacobs


Atlantic Yards Report

I haven't read of anyone blaming the superblock design of some housing towers in Newark for the August 4 massacre of three young people and the severe injuries to another, but a New York Times article on Wednesday hinted that an outmoded modernist design contributed, at least, to an atmosphere of lawlessness.

The Times article was headlined In Newark Murder, a Mixed Band of Men and Boys. While it focused on the perpetrators and their drift into crime, it explained the setting: the Ivy Hill Park Apartments were built in 1952, the superblock supremacy era, and include ten 15-story buildings over a wide plain with no intervening streets. (Graphic from New York Times)

While the area has improved, some crime persists, and in places it apparently flourishes:
And they lurked in a place known as “the bushes,” a garbage-strewn thicket of high weeds behind two of the buildings where they could set upon anyone who used a dirt path as a shortcut to a nearby shopping center, according to residents and several of those who said they had been victimized.

There are no streets between the buildings, obviously, and a photo in the Times shows no retail or community facilities at the bases of the buildings. So there's little reason for there to be "eyes on the street," in the phrase of the late urbanist Jane Jacobs.


Posted by amy at 9:43 AM

August 15, 2007

Urban Planning Fan Kent Barwick Channels Jane Jacobs

Kent Barwick will step down next year as president of the Municipal Art Society. But he’s got ideas now about Atlantic Yards, Moynihan Station, the Chelsea Hotel and what could’ve been had Mae West visited the Pussycat Lounge

Barwick-NYO.jpgThe NY Observer
By Chris Shott

Outgoing head of the Municipal Art Society, Kent Barwick, shares his thoughts on Frank Gehry and Atlantic Yards:

Last week, you joined several Brooklyn officials in calling for a new government entity to oversee the planned mega-development at Atlantic Yards. MAS obviously advocates for “excellence in urban design.” What do you have against Frank Gehry?

The sketches I’ve seen for the arena and the interior of the arena, I think that they’ll look striking. I think Ms. Brooklyn is out of scale, unnecessarily, and the way that that collection of buildings is massed, that it needlessly cuts off a significant vista. You know, most of that section of Brooklyn is used to seeing the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

Atlantic Yards was conceived only from the point of view of the needs of the developer. Frank Gehry is a fine architect. Given the right set of directions and constraints, I think he probably could’ve delivered a great project. That may still happen.


Posted by lumi at 6:20 AM

August 12, 2007

Why the rush to Manhattanize L.A.?

LA Times
Joel Kotkin

Why is this happening? One reason for the city's apparent lock-step march to Manhattanization is that big developers are increasingly dominating and politicizing land-use decisions, much as they do in New York City. The $4-billion "Atlantic Yards" project in New York is an example. The proposal would add about 6,500 mixed-income residential units to the generally low- and mid-rise environment of downtown Brooklyn, making population density in the area among the nation's highest. Despite intense grass-roots opposition, developer Bruce Ratner and his ally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have won at least $500 million in subsidies for the project.

"You can't stop [big developer] interests unless you have equally powerful interests on your side," said urban historian Fred Siegel.

Atlantic Yards Report agrees with Siegel, but not with some of the article's descriptions:

Siegel's observation is appropriate; note that the West Side Stadium was opposed by both grassroots activists and the very self-interested Cablevision, owner of Madison Square Garden.

As for "the generally low- and mid-rise environment of downtown Brooklyn," that would be a better description of Prospect Heights, where most of Atlantic Yards would be located, and nearby Fort Greene. Downtown Brooklyn, especially given the recent rezoning, is a more mixed environment, with an increasing number of high rises.

As for the subsidies, the direct subsidies, as of now, would be $305 million from the city and state, plus a significant number of indirect subsidies and public costs. To reach $500 million, perhaps Kotkin was counting the estimated $200 million in subsidies from the "Atlantic Yards carve-out" in the 421-a revision.


Posted by amy at 8:02 AM

Coalition Seeks More Community Input Into Atlantic Yards Process

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Raanan Geberer

Now, a coalition group known as BrooklynSpeaks has called for a major restructuring of the oversight process for the project. BrooklynSpeaks is sponsored by a host of community-related organizations including the Municipal Art Society, the Pratt Area Community Council, the Fifth Avenue Committee, the Boerum Hill Association and others.

At Borough Hall yesterday, representatives of the group represented the proposed change with a drawing. The current process shows Forest City at the center, with input from the Community Benefit Association (CBA) groups, the state’s Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC) and (in an unofficial capacity) the city.

What BrooklynSpeaks would like to see is a “Stakeholder Council” with input from local elected officials, community boards, community groups, CBA groups and local elected officials. The council would provide input to a “Project Oversight Entity,” with additional input from the ESDC and the city, which in turn would give input to Forest City.


Posted by amy at 7:58 AM

August 10, 2007

Lawrence St tower may top Williamsburgh Bank

The Brooklyn Paper

ClockTowerMeasure.gif Bruce Ratner was pressured to reduce the height of the Atlantic Yards' signature tower, inanely dubbed "Miss Brooklyn" by architect Frank Gehry, to maintain the height supremacy of the nearby Williamsburgh Clock Tower building. Is it only a matter of time before the Clock Tower is dwarfed by some other new highrise?

The Williamsburgh Bank Building’s iconic clocktower would no longer be the borough’s tallest structure, if a big-time development company has its way.

The Clarett Group, the firm behind the Forte condos in Fort Greene, submitted a proposal in June for a 51-story residential building at 111 Lawrence St., near the Metrotech campus Downtown.

The Buildings Department rejected the proposal and sent it back to the developer for revision.

But if the basic elements of the proposal remain intact, the 491-unit residential tower would rise 514 feet, two feet taller than the legendary Williamsburgh Bank Building.
In 2006, Brooklynites were similarly aghast to discover that Miss Brooklyn, the trophy skyscraper of the Frank Gehry-designed 16-tower-and-arena Atlantic Yards project, would rise to 620 feet and obscure views of the clocktower. Later that year, developer Forest City Ratner, agreed to lower its height to below 512 feet.


NoLandGrab: There are two schools of thought regarding the preservation of the Clock Tower.

The "Don't Block the Clock" camp is primarily interested in preserving the "view corridor" — they were largely concerned about having the tallest building in Brooklyn a block away from the previously tallest building in Brooklyn.

The other school of thought goes one step further, in hopes of resisting the "Manhattanization" of Brooklyn and preserving its special character; the Clock Tower has become a symbol and measuring stick for high-rise proposals.

Posted by lumi at 8:53 AM

August 6, 2007

Architecture and the "historical continuum"

Atlantic Yards Report

While Ouroussoff generally likes Gehry's work, he's expressed qualms about the Atlantic Yards project. And his essay on [Portuguese architect Álvaro] Siza might be seen as an implicit rebuke to city-making projects like AY.

He writes:

Whatever his doubts, his vision of an architecture rooted in a historical continuum seems vitally important in a world fractured by political conflict and ethnic hatreds. If an earlier generation of Modernists believed that architecture could play a vital role in spurring us along the road to utopia, we now know that progress is no longer a guarantee. Almost any society, it turns out, can quickly and unexpectedly descend into darkness and savagery.

At the same time the march of global capitalism has made faith in technology, a Modernist dogma, seem less and less attractive. And if the bold and delirious forms churned out by celebrated architects today mirror social upheavals, they can also serve to camouflage the damage.
(Emphasis added)

The Atlantic Yards design may not mirror social upheaval, but it wouldn't be rooted in a historical continuum, despite plans to use brick and other locally-evocative materials for some portion of Gehry's skyscrapers.


NoLandGrab: Blogger Stuart Schrader from "Picketing Henry Ford" has been arguing that, like social upheaval, the Atlantic Yards plan and Barclays Center is a result of global capitalism.

In his July 2005 review of Gehry's Atlantic Yards, Ouroussoff characterized the signature tower, dubbed "Miss Brooklyn" by the architect, as "a delirious pileup of forms."

Posted by lumi at 9:42 AM

August 4, 2007

"The Last Three Miles" and the Atlantic Yards experiment


Atlantic Yards Report

There are some indirect lessons for Atlantic Yards watchers, I think, in New Jersey journalist Steven Hart's recent book about the construction of the Pulaski Skyway in New Jersey.

The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America's First Superhighway, covers the story behind the 1932 opening of the final link that would connect New York City and the Holland Tunnel (1927) with the mainland highway system, thus diverting traffic that had clogged local roads and Jersey City streets for five years.
Failures in design

But for those of us in Brooklyn, it's useful to consider Hart's suggestion that this project be included in courses concerning failures in design.

Hart writes:
The Pulaski Skyway should also be a part of those classes, if only as an example of a quieter kind of failure--a failure rooted not in recklessness, but lack of background knowledge. The designers of Route 25 and the Skyway that is its most visible section were visionaries doing something that hadn't been done before. They weren't the only ones thinking in terms of superhighways--the first German autobahn was completed the same year the Skyway opened--but they were under the gun, and they had little experience in the field of traffic engineering to draw upon. The result was one of the most visually spectacular and functionally impaired mistakes ever made.
(Emphasis added)


Posted by amy at 8:27 AM

Collaboration Theme of Brooklyn Real Estate Roundtable


Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Linda Collins

Collaboration seemed to be the word for the day at the quarterly Real Estate Roundtable held at the Brooklyn Historical Society Wednesday, Aug. 1.

Speakers Sharon Greenberger, president and CEO of the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA), and the NYPD’s Joseph Fox, commander of Brooklyn South and its 13 police precincts, both emphasized the importance of working together with developers and realtors.
She was speaking about current conversations underway with Jed and David Walentas at Two Trees Management Co., who are proposing a middle school for their new development at 38 Water St. in DUMBO, and with Forest City Ratner Companies and its massive Atlantic Yards Development.

“We realized we needed to be at the table [with Ratner] early on and so we were and there will be a school component there,” she said.

NoLandGrab: For a comparison of new seats in sports stadiums to be created over the next five years vs. new seats in schools, click here. Take a wild guess which one is higher!

Posted by amy at 8:14 AM

August 3, 2007

The "park" at Stuy Town--a harbinger of Atlantic Yards?

StuyTownPark.jpgThough Bruce Ratner fancies using the word "park," like in his interview with NY Post columnist Andrea Peyser, Atlantic Yards Report explains that there's a difference between a "park" and "privately-managed, publicly-accessible open space," and uses Stuy Town promotional material to explain.

"Lots of New Yorkers visit parks, but not many live in one." So goes the promotion (click to enlarge) for Stuyvesant Town, the newly-privatized complex for which, along with neighboring Peter Cooper Village, developer Tishman Speyer agreed to pay $5.4 billion last October. ...
the developer claims that the open space in the 80-acre, 110-building development is a "park." (A print ad further states: "Work out in an 80-acre park right outside your door.")

It's not. It's privately-managed, publicly-accessible open space and, as this City Council document (about access) shows, private interests do not necessarily match public ones.

Stuyvesant Town's open space serves more as a private park than a public one, and thus has been targeted by Atlantic Yards critics as the poster child for what to avoid. "Would there be an invisible "keep out" sign, as in Stuyvesant Town or other apartment complexes with interior parks?" wrote Anne Schwartz last August in the Gotham Gazette.


Posted by lumi at 10:03 AM

July 31, 2007

Talk of the Town
By Eugenia Bell

An essay on the trio of exhibits re-examining the legacy of Robert Moses notes that the controversy has triggered debate on contemporary planning issues:

For many New Yorkers the trio of shows (at the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art and Columbia University’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery) has also prompted discussion about some of the lengthy planning deliberations the city is currently experiencing. (Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, Hudson Yards in west midtown Manhattan and the veritable impasse at Ground Zero are only the most obvious.) Thanks in no small part to the efforts of urban theorist Jane Jacobs in the 1960s, New York’s historical experience of Robert Moses’ work has led to greater community input and activism when it comes to major redevelopment projects, many of which raise the ugly spectre of one of the most reviled of Moses’ crusades – eminent domain.


Posted by lumi at 7:45 PM

Stated Meeting: Cell Phones, Yes, Markers, No

From Gotham Gazette's overview of City Council actions by Courtney Gross:

In a counter move for the special State zoning override for Atlantic Yards, residents and business owners around Bruce Ratner's controversial project are seeking changes in zoning to protect their neighborhoods from further encroachment:

In response to the mega-development Atlantic Yards, part of the rezoning addresses preserving the commercial corridors of Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street, but also keeps nearby areas of low-rise and historic residential rowhouses intact. The rezoning, according to Councilmember Letitia James, will ensure historic residential properties do not immediately abut gargantuan developments.


Posted by lumi at 9:05 AM

July 30, 2007

Some AY echoes in Williamsburg's New Domino plan (& hype)

Atlantic Yards Report

Domino.jpgWhether local activists win, lose or draw in their fight against Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards scheme, they've made it difficult for NYC to propose any large-scale redevelopment plan that doesn't draw parallels or react against the poster-project for bad urban planning.

Today Norman Oder analyzes the New Domino plan.

I can’t evaluate whether the New Domino plan is worthwhile or not—more details need to emerge, and some significant local players, among them Community Board 1 and Phil DePaolo's New York Community Council, have yet to weigh in. A public hearing on the Draft Scope, the first step to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and potential approval of the project next year, will be held from 2 to 5 pm and 6 to 8:45 pm tomorrow at the Department of City Planning (DCP) in Lower Manhattan. (Will the room be big enough?)

But it's clear the plan deserves more scrutiny beyond the hype, especially given some parallels with the AY promotion effort.

The Mad O considers the similarities...

The New Domino would offer, like AY:

  • significant density
  • a starchitect (in this case Rafael Viñoly)
  • an emphasis on affordable housing (30 percent), requiring significant (but unstated) public subsidies
  • plans for “park space,” in the developer’s words, that’s actually “public open space,” according to DCP (4 acres)
  • a questionable solution for transit (shuttles to the distant subway, plus a water taxi)
  • endorsement by grassroots neighborhood advocates (El Puente, Churches United)
  • a fast-track plan in the summer (hearing July 31)
  • a considerable amount of parking (1450 spaces)
  • a partner-developer with a not so beloved track record (The Katan Group)

...and differences:

...besides the city review and no request for direct subsidy. AY would include no historic preservation, despite calls to save the Ward Bakery. Perhaps most notably, Refinery LLC is run by managing partner CPC Resources (CPCR), the for-profit subsidiary of Community Preservation Corporation (CPC), which has a 30-year history of financing affordable housing throughout New York.


Posted by lumi at 10:09 AM

July 29, 2007

Before you try to reinvent a place, you should be able to equal it.

Veritas et Venustas

IT'S the Sixties all over again: architects, politicians and machers are promoting urban-removal mega-projects — and the people are fighting back. In the early Sixties, Jane Jacobs fought Robert Moses and helped stop a highway through the middle of Washington Square and Greenwich Village. A year or so later, Jane Jacobs, Philip Johnson and Jackie Onassis fought against the demolition of McKim, Mead & White's Pennsylvania Station, but lost, and the city suffered.

”You used to enter the city like a god, now you creep in like a rat,” Vincent Scully famously said about the new and old stations. It's funny that the buildings architects propose today even look like those 1960s buildings (before the Beatles and the Summer of Love). All Power to the People, baby.

The "villages" proposed by New York City's Deputy Mayor in their Olympic proposal are obvious examples of what I'm talking about. The Deputy Mayor even considers himself a new Robert Moses (and says Jane Jacobs was wrong). Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards is another, although Frank Gehry's architecture doesn't look neo-Sixties.


Posted by amy at 11:48 AM

July 28, 2007

On complex land-use choices and "land monopoly"


Atlantic Yards Report delves into Robert Fitch's 1993 book The Assassination of New York.

Fitch's single-focus analysis meant critics in even the left-wing Nation and Monthly Review found the book's explanations--for example, of the decline in manufacturing or the city's struggles--incomplete. But they also found the book valuable, and there are some passages of particular resonance today.

Beyond Jane Jacobs

Hence this pointed observation, which substitutes a Rockefeller for the usual culprit, Moses, and raises a larger point about current land-use battles in Brooklyn and beyond:
When David Rockefeller tried to run the Lower Manhattan Expressway through Washington Square Park, you didn't have to have a degree in planning from MIT to know it was destructive. Jane Jacobs led the charge and miraculously sent the establishmentarians back to their Westchester redoubts. But land-use choices involving housing vs. jobs; the mix of income in a housing project; the question of which jobs are really viable in an urban setting; what's the best location for manufacturing--these issues don't lend themselves to such clear-cut resistance. Everyone grasps that it is people who decide where highways go. But the notion that strictly objective force, like technology and markets, the "logic of capital," determine factory and office locations is disarming. Ideas count. (Emphasis added)

Indeed. And the issue is also the way incentives shape markets; why, for example, has Downtown Brooklyn become a home for housing, when that was not anticipated in the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning? Because tax breaks make the projects that much more attractive.


Posted by amy at 11:51 AM

July 27, 2007

Letters to the Editor

The Brooklyn Paper ran a few letters this week (link) that reference Atlantic Yards and the guy who really seems to run things in this town, Bruce Ratner:

Markowitz for mayor? Our readers respond

It is no surprise to me that Borough President Markowitz is raising money from large developers and other big-time political donors, yet precious little from the grassroots (“Marty money misses mark,” July 21). After all, this is a borough president who has spent the last six years doing the bidding of developers like Bruce Ratner, whose vision for Brooklyn is counter to many of Markowitz’s own constituents.

— Tom Sutton, Sunset Park


When I read your original story about Arena Bagels, I was angered that a bunch of bullies forced the store owner to change his name because they objected to anyone using a noun that brought to mind Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project.

But your articles showed me that the bagel store owner, Ravi Aggarwaal, was not angry about the neighbors who demanded that he re-name the store.

He taught us all a lesson in turning the other cheek.

— Nancy Melnick, Prospect Heights

Kick pols in career

We should honor Lady Bird Johnson by turning Atlantic Yards into meadows of native planted trees.

Our parks are becoming overcrowded. Maybe Bruce Ratner wants to declare the parks blighted so his cronies in elected office can condemn them and hand them over so he can build on them.

— Rhudi Eagle, Park Slope

Posted by lumi at 7:23 AM

July 25, 2007

Grand Vision

Mayor Mike’s plan for a more sustainable city is surprisingly comprehensive.

Metropolis Magazine

Karrie Jacobs gives Mayor Bloomberg a standing O for PlaNYC, with two caveats: the enormous hedgerows of luxury waterfront condos and Bruce Ratner's 22-acre Atlantic Yards megalopolis.

Unfortunately, the plan casts some of the administration’s existing policies, such as rebuilding the old industrial waterfront into glam new residential neighborhoods, as moral imperative: housing must be built on every available site. The argument is that increased supply will lead to affordability, but that equation doesn’t always work in this city. (To be fair, the plan promises 22,000 units of middle-class housing and strategies such as inclusionary zoning, which grants developers bonuses for building affordable units in or adjacent to market-rate properties.) Housing, the plan says, should also be built on sites that don’t currently exist. PlaNYC calls for methodically decking over rail yards and sunken highways to acquire large tracts. The theory is exciting, but in practice so far the approach has spawned Atlantic Yards, a gargantuan scheme conceived with indifference to surrounding communities.


NoLandGrab: Atlantic Yards critics were quick to note that Bruce Ratner's controversial plan is antithetical to nearly every principle outlined in Bloomberg's PlaNYC.

Though many urban planners currently support the concept of increased density at transportation hubs, the historic extreme density of Atlantic Yards is on an inconceivable scale that strains or counters nearly every one of the Mayor's objectives.

Now that PlaNYC is getting high fives all around, it might be the right time for the Mayor to quietly and casually withdraw his support for Atlantic Yards.

Posted by lumi at 8:55 AM

July 19, 2007

It came from the Blogosphere...

Zoned-In, Economic Development: The Stronger Transportation Solution

One blogger repackages Atlantic Yards as a regional business center:

Rather than developing strategies to facilitate long-distance travel routes, be they from Canarsie on the subway or from Suffolk County on the LIRR, why not develop job centers throughout the region, creating job opportunities closer to the homes of the region’s 18 million? Perhaps once Downtown Brooklyn, Jamaica, the Bronx Hub, the Nassau Hub, and other secondary central business districts have emerged as competitive, diverse job centers, it will become more practical for the region’s residents to walk or bicycle – or at least drive shorter distances – on their daily commutes, relieving the region’s traffic congestion. The Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, for instance, would benefit from making office and retail space the emphasis of the project.

NoLandGrab: It sounds like a good idea — the only problem is that the track record for creating a regional business center in Downtown Brooklyn has been fairly poor:

  • Bruce Ratner's MetroTech was supposed to be exactly that. However, after the tenants failed to materialize, the City moved administrative offices into the complex, becoming its largest tenant.

  • After only three years, the Downtown Brooklyn Plan has already run off its tracks. Instead of yeilding millions of square feet of office space, developers have flocked to the luxury condo market.

Streets Blog, Critical Transportation Reforms Sink With Pricing

The sinking of the congestion pricing ship took other victims with it. Lost with congestion pricing was legislation approving bus lane enforcement cameras, residential parking permits, and reclassifying "block the box" as an easier to enforce parking violation.
Permits might make sense as a mitigation for reducing the "edge effect" of a congestion pricing zone and to prevent driving to major trip-generators like the proposed Atlantic Yards arena in Brooklyn.

NoLandGrab: The conventional wisdom among transpo nerds is that congestion pricing and residential parking permits are necessary to mitigate some of the effects of placing an arena and 16 high-rise towers on one of the busiest intersections in Brooklyn.

Pardon me for asking, Hey, We Are All Invited To Bill De Blasio's Place
After being elected to two City Council terms, Bill de Blasio is starting to hold meet-and-greets. "Pardonez-moi" blogger Katia Kelly shares one reader's email:

Bill de Blasio, everybody's favorite beamish boy, needs to sort out his loyalties about the Atlantic Yards before he starts hustling cash around here. He does not need a town hall meeting for that, just a published statement.

Of course, if you'd like to share your views on Atlantic Yards, you can drop by De Blasio's district office (2907 Ft. Hamilton Parkway) next Tuesday, July 24, 3PM-7PM.

Posted by lumi at 7:22 AM

July 17, 2007

Don’t Call David Adjaye a Starchitect

Lauded and pilloried (well, by one client), the U.K. sensation heads to our shores.

Adjaye.jpgNY Magazine
By Alexandra Lange

After declaring that, "Architects are good at building. They are not good at politics," architect David Adjaye ducks the question about Atlantic Yards:

Have you been following the Atlantic Yards news, since your first New York project, for artists James Casebere and Lorna Simpson, was in Fort Greene?

There are a lot of emotional discussions about new development everywhere. As an architect, I have to be an optimist.


Posted by lumi at 9:20 AM

July 7, 2007

In Staten Island, a development via RFP, unlike AY

Atlantic Yards Report

From a 7/5/07 New York Sun article headlined Huge Area of Staten Island May Be Up for Development:
The city is moving forward with plans to determine the future of one of the city's last undeveloped frontiers, the wetlands-filled and shipping-heavy West Shore of Staten Island.

The city's Economic Development Corporation last week put out a request for proposals for a land use and transportation plan for the area, part of an effort to devise a growth strategy for the space more than six times the size of Central Park.

Again, the city's general policy, as highlighted in PlaNYC 2030, contrasts with the development scenario leading to Atlantic Yards, where the city and state got behind a specific project 18 months before an RFP was issued for the public property (the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard) at issue.


Posted by amy at 9:29 AM

June 27, 2007

It came from the Blogosphere...

BrooklynSkyline-VS.jpgVelvet Sea, Another Perspective on Atlantic Yards
Photographic evidence that Prospect Heights is NOT in Downtown Brooklyn.

Photos of the Brooklyn skyline taken from Williamsburgh provides additional perspective on Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards plan.

As you can see below, the [Williamsburgh Savings Bank] tower is a bit of a distance away from the downtown Brooklyn business core of highrises, seen just beyond the Williamsburg Bridge on the right hand side in this shot.

The Knickerblogger, ESDC Math= Adding 16000 residents and an arena won't affect subway capacity

...of course, as with everything else in Bruce Ratner's corrupt fantasy world, the reality is another story (four of the over crowded lines mentioned stop at Atlantic Avenue:

News of this afternoon's anti-eminent domain abuse demonstration and press conference at City Hall is spreading over the internet:

HandsOff-BIB.jpgLOHO 10002, Important Events This Week

Wednesday, June 27, 1 pm
Steps of City Hall
Anti-displacement groups throughout the city join to protest eminent domain abuse, marking the second-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision which allowed cities to use eminent domain to evict residents and destroy their homes to benefit a private development. Demonstration organized by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the neighborhood group opposing Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development plan.

Brit in Brooklyn, Big Eminent Domain Rally at City Hall, Wednesday.

Historic Districts Council Newsstand, A Rally, a Letter and a Lecture - all to help save Brooklyn

News of the anti-eminent domain rally, a letter-writing campaign to Governor Spitzer and a lecture on PlaNYC in Brooklyn.

Posted by lumi at 6:35 AM

June 23, 2007

Who is Loren Riegelhaupt, and why Is he quoted in this article?

AP via AM New York

An article appearing on AM New York "Keep it down: New York City noise regulations going into effect" manages to mix up New York City noise rules with rules for the proposed STATE project Atlantic Yards.


Loren Riegelhaupt, spokesman for Forest City Ratner Companies, the company behind the massive Atlantic Yards project that includes a new Brooklyn arena for the NBA's Nets, said keeping the sound down is good business.

"As part of construction you have to mitigate noise measures, and we'll do everything we're asked to do," he said. As part of the plan to stifle construction noise around the Atlantic Yards project, the company is buying double-pained windows and quiet air conditioners for about 700 nearby neighbors to help offset sound.

NLG: The air conditioners and new windows have nothing to do with any New York City rules. These are supposed to be part of the mitigations mentioned in the State Environrnental Impact Statement. These mitigations are somehow supposed to make up for making the Prospect Heights neighborhood unlivable during construction of the Atlantic Yards development.


Posted by steve at 9:28 AM

June 18, 2007

Two from BrooklynSpeaks member groups join Bloomberg's administration

Atlantic Yards Report

Mayor Mike Bloomberg's administration, as part of its long-term sustainability initiative, has hired some well-respected analysts and advocates who've spent a long time on the outside looking in.

As Streetsblog has reported, Project for Public Spaces (PPS) vice president and transportation program director Andy Wiley-Schwartz will join the Department of Transportation's (DOT) new Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, reporting to new Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller. And Jon Orcutt, former director of the Tri-State Transportation Council (TSTC) has joined DOT to serve as senior policy advisor to the new commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan.
Both PPS and TSTC have offered savvy criticism of Atlantic Yards both independently and as part of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition. Should the project continue to move forward, at least some city government officials will have taken a close look at the challenges.


Posted by lumi at 9:52 AM

June 5, 2007

Atlantic Yards and the Sustainability Test?

Gotham Gazette
By Tom Angotti

Mayor Bloomberg is proposing a bold plan for the future of NYC with some progressive ideas, only Atlantic Yards isn't part of it:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s long-term sustainability plan, (PlaNYC2030), is aimed at stemming global warming and promoting energy efficiency by concentrating new construction near transit hubs and using green building technology. At the same time, the mayor proposes to reduce traffic in densely developed areas with congestion pricing, to encourage bicycling, and to build new public open spaces in every neighborhood.

Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn claims to do all of these things – along with providing thousands of new apartments and jobs and bringing a major league sports team, the NBA Nets, to Brooklyn. Yet curiously the mayor’s voluminous 2030 plan includes no mention of the megaproject, Brooklyn’s largest-ever. And in many respects, Atlantic Yards, which was driven by the developer and backed by the state with minimal city involvement, would actually undermine green development and be unsustainable in the long run.

Professor Angotti balances the pros and cons of Atlantic Yards based upon the goals of the Mayor's plan and serves up a reality check for New Yorkers.


Posted by lumi at 9:29 AM

May 25, 2007

Critic Goldberger: post-Moses era represents failure to plan

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports from last night's panel discussion on the legacy of Robert Moses.

These days, it seems to be par for the course that Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards plan is mentioned during panel discussions as the poor-planning posterproject:

The failure of government to plan, to imagine, instead choosing to subcontract planning to the private sector, is the hallmark of our post-Robert Moses era--even more so than the difficulty in reconciling public participation and major projects, according to Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic of The New Yorker.

He spoke at another panel discussion on Moses's legacy, held Wednesday night at the Museum of the City of New York. In an article for the New York Times's Empire Zone blog titled What Would Moses Do?, Sewell Chan offers a good summary (which saved me some transcription of quotes); I'll focus more on Goldberger's comments, which also included a salute to Atlantic Yards bloggers.

[Goldberger] cited Columbus Circle, Moynihan Station, Governor’s Island, the West Side railyards plan, Atlantic Yards, and Ground Zero as examples of "the public sector turning planning over to the private sector and letting it propose. The public sector has become, for all intents and purposes, an organizer, an impresario, a referee, an enabler and a negotiator of the projects that are conceived and packaged by the private sector. Planning, in effect, has been subcontracted out."

Oder offers an additional observation:

Even with those minimal standards, I'd observe, Atlantic Yards may fall short. Even the process packaging the project represents a sweetheart deal, according to Atlantic Yards opponents, because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority didn't issue an RFP for the Vanderbilt Yard until 18 months after the city and state backed developer Forest City Ratner's plan.


Posted by lumi at 8:13 AM

What Would Moses Do?

The Empire Zone
By Sewell Chan


What would Moses do? Good question — for starters, he would not have located a basketball arena at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush.

When Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley wanted to build a new ballpark a few short steps from the intersection, Moses turned him down, claiming that the stadium would create "a China Wall of traffic."

(Roger Kahn, "The Boys of Summer," page 429)

Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Center Mall sits on the site coveted by O'Malley.

But we digress...

From The NY Times's political blog:

Development — and its impact on New York’s neighborhoods — was the theme of a wide-ranging discussion last night at the Museum of the City of New York. (And, as with all such events lately, the subject of Atlantic Yards, the massive Brooklyn project, came up; see below.) Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, moderated the discussion, which included Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic of The New Yorker; Michael Kwartler, an architect, planner, urban designer and educator; and Robert B. Tierney, a lawyer and chairman of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Mr. Goldberger said that much of the actual or planned development in recent years — Columbus Circle; the proposed train station in the Farley Post Office Building; Governor’s Island; the West Side railyards; Atlantic Yards; and even ground zero — has been driven by the private sector.

Goldberger gave Brooklyn bloggers some props, which is an indication that he probably gets more of his information on Atlantic Yards from the blogsphere than from the developer's web site,

“The nature of citizen participation is a little different today,” he said. “It doesn’t happen through public hearings. Look at the extent to which blogs about Atlantic Yards have become a part of public discourse and become a part of public opinion and slowed down the project and may redirect it to a certain extent.”


NoLandGrab: To describe Atlantic Yards as "driven by the private sector" is sort of simplistic — we weren't there and can't vouch for the context of the quote.

Goldberger is correct that Bruce Ratner's controversial Atlantic Yards project was conceived in the private sector. However, the unprecedented scale and density of the project is only made possible by its public sponsorship. The Atlantic Yards behemoth is a prime example of how the power of public authorities, which Moses defined and exercized so well, can be relinquished to serve politically connected private-sector corporations.

Posted by lumi at 7:51 AM

May 23, 2007

It came from the Blogosphere...

Blogosphere53.jpg Date Hole, Smart Move: Local Documentaries
"Brooklyn Matters" as part of your classic NYC date, dinner and a movie (NLG corrections added):

So normally, a movie would be out of the question. Movies are uninspiring and more generally not a particularly original idea for a date. But when it’s a movie about something that’s happening right now in the city that you live in and you could actually affect change, it can be played as a pretty creative date idea.

This particular documentary is titled “Brooklyn Matters” and is about the pending redevelopment of the Atlantic train yards in downtown Brooklyn Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. If you haven’t been paying attention to this at all, Bruce Ratner (a prominent developer) bought up a lot of space in downtown Brooklyn Prospect Heights (and by a lot of space, we’re talking hundreds of 22 acres) and requested that the city State use eminent domain to appropriate the property (read: residences) that he couldn’t buy.

What: Brooklyn Matters
When: June 3rd, 7pm
How Much: FREE! Donate, you greedy prick.
Where: Union Docs: Take the G or the L to Lorimer/Metropolitan and walk south on Union Street.

So, after you go and get your indignation on, there’s really nothing better than to wash your misery down with the some delicious pulled pork and a delicious glass of beer. And I know that this place is the perinial favorite, but Fette Sau is, in fact, good.

Mitchell Langbert's Blog, Bloomberg--Left Wing Independent
The conservative argument against Bloomberg for President includes a large dose of welfare for sports team owners, eminent domain abuse and boondoggles for rapacious "liberal do-gooders" (Atlantic Yards issues in bold):

Bloomberg has avoided reducing government, avoided reducing taxes, presented plans for a wide range of big government boondoggles like a football stadium that no one wanted and a Robert Moses-style master plan, favored gun control, and has supported his fellow billionaires the Ochs-Sulzbergers in their goal of looting small private landlords through private-use eminent domain. At the same time that he has been supporting the ultra-rich, like Bruce Ratner and the Ochs-Sulzbergers, Bloomberg has viciously and repeatedly harassed small businesses in a dozen different ways, insisting on one regulation after another in synch with his left-wing public health compulsions.

Brownstoner, Ratner: 'Fort Greene, I've Got You Surrounded'

Man, it's getting hard to keep up with all the towers that are sprouting up in Downtown Brooklyn. Yesterday, Curbed ran some renderings of Bruce Ratner's latest project at 80 Dekalb Avenue aka 625 Fulton Street.

I Am A Child Of Television, Be Sure To Watch

Be sure to watch... On The Lot on FOX tonight.

Not because it looks like an interesting variation of the American Idol concept, with aspiring film makers being judged by a group of industry people (Carrie Fisher, Bruce Ratner, Gary Marshall, Jon Avnet) with the prize of a million dollar development deal with Dreamworks.

NoLandGrab: Um, that's supposed to be "Brett" Ratner, but it's nice to know that our community's campaign to make "Bruce" some sort of household name seems to be getting some traction.

So let's get it straight:
BRETT = filmmaker
BRUCE = national figurehead for developers-gone-wild

The Knickerblogger, Lies Have Consequences

What is curious is that is seems to be easier to get a lie known [than] the truth. We, opposition to Atlantic Yards have always felt that 'if the people knew' they would be outraged at the massive public outlays, the eminent domain abuse that Ratner is palming off as a 'civic' project. Likewise, leading up to Iraq war, i was bewildered that people actually believed there were "WMD" and Saddam was another 'Hitler'. Why is it so many people are willing to accept a lie instead of the truth?

Posted by lumi at 7:09 AM

May 20, 2007

Consulting Firm Paid $5 Million So Far for Brooklyn Atlantic Yards Work

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
By Sarah Ryley

Consulting firm AKRF will receive $630,000 more for work it has done related to the Atlantic Yards arena and high- rise project after a state development corporation vote Thursday, bringing the firm’s total contract for project-related work in the last 20 months to $4.8 million.

The same firm was paid $500,000 by the city’s Economic Development Corporation for its three-year study on the relationship between several 19th century houses on Duffield Street and the Underground Railroad, according to testimony by EDC Senior Vice President Kate Collignon.
Critics of the agencies have criticized the consulting firm for primarily aiming to produce the desired results of the agencies that pay them big money to conduct the studies, rather than reducing any potential harm a project could cause. But development corporation officials have routinely responded that no other firm is as qualified as AKRF.


Posted by amy at 7:46 AM

May 18, 2007

A start on trading cumbersome (city) environmental review for the civic work of planning

Atlantic Yards Report

Nobody’s happy with the way projects get approved in New York. Rather than planning, there’s an environmental review process--city, state, or federal depending on the overseeing authority—that aims to disclose adverse impacts rather than actually mitigate them. Reams of paper produced by high-priced consultants allow developers to insulate against lawsuits, but otherwise don’t serve the public well.

The indictment, as applied in the city’s implementation of the 1975 State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), is detailed thoroughly in a new publication, Rethinking Environmental Review: A Handbook on What Can Be Done, written by Hope Cohen, deputy director of the Center for Rethinking Development at the Manhattan Institute, with a foreword by Richard Ravitch, former head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

While the institute has a free-market bent, it gathered a panel of good government types for a panel discussion yesterday, who endorsed the critique even if they differed at points over the prescription. They included Ravitch; Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association (RPA); Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society (MAS); and Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council of NY and former commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

As usual, at these events, the poor planning posterproject made an uninvited appearance:

Though Atlantic Yards, as a project overseen by the state, was not addressed in the handbook, it was brought up yet again by the panel as an emblematic example of poor planning.


Posted by lumi at 9:12 AM

Building-Making versus City-Making

Spotlight on the Region
By Rob Lane, Director, Regional Design Programs, RPA Newsletter from the Regional Planning Association

Now Atlantic Yards is the posterchild of bad planning and poor process:

...there’s been too little critical thinking about whether the public approach to development that has evolved over the last three decades is up to the task. Perhaps the best case for examining where we might be headed is to look at the most massive single project that has recently received public approval.

The Atlantic Yards project, which will remake a large piece of Downtown Brooklyn with millions of square feet of development, has moved into the hand-wringing and lawsuit stage. Merits aside, it is worth at least reflecting on what this experience can teach us, because the Atlantic Yards experience is a microcosm not only of big-time development and politics in New York City, but of the often erroneous ways we are building our cities throughout the U.S.

At the heart of the controversy and debate over Atlantic Center is an important and fundamental question: when should a development “project” be considered simply a house or office writ large, and when is it an example of “city-building,” signifying an essentially different thing in kind as well as degree? And what is the difference?

Also, Atlantic Yards may alter the "space-time continuum:"

The difference between project building and city building comes down to two criteria and how much of each are used: space and time.

A project that makes the leap into city building involves changing space in a fundamental way. In city building, this means altering the existing public realm of streets and other public spaces in a substantive way. Streets are being closed, or new ones proposed. Parks and squares will be built, or existing ones altered. Altering this bottom layer of streets and essential public spaces must be considered with exceptional care because the streets and open spaces we create today will shape the neighborhoods of tomorrow for the generations that follow. When we change the streets, we’re not just writing a new picture on a piece of canvas; we’re changing the canvas itself.


NoLandGrab: There are some interesting thoughts about urban planning in this article, though the author isn't big on details. The proposed Atlantic Yards project ISN'T in Downtown Brooklyn and "Atlantic Center" is an existing mall situated on the site once coveted by Brooklyn Dodgers' owner Walter O'Malley for a new ballpark.

Atlantic Yards Report, The RPA on AY: we must do better at "city-making"
Norman Oder fleshes out some of the points Rob Lane makes as they relate to Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project.

Posted by lumi at 8:27 AM

May 16, 2007

Livable neighborhoods, community planning, and community media 2.0

Today's installment on Atlantic Yards Report covers the Municipal Art Society's workshop for the "Livable Neighborhoods Program: Resources and Training for Community-Based Planners."

The next workshop is this Saturday. Community leaders and activists will want to read Norman Oder's account of the previous workshop to see if this is something that they might be interested in attending.

As Eve Baron, director of the MAS Planning Center, points out, the average New York City community district is the size of Connecticut cities like Bridgeport, New Haven, or Waterbury, all of which have “hundreds of employees and multi-million dollar budgets to provide services.” By contrast, the city’s community boards, with budgets of $200,000, can’t fulfill the demands placed on them.

Participants at the seminar get a planning “toolkit” with chapters on planning topics like community organizing and visioning, data collection, zoning, 197-a planning, “brownfield” planning, historic and cultural resources preservation, electronic mapping and the budget process.

The training component, using the toolkit as a textbook, is hosted by the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development (CCPD). I found the sessions I attended May 5 useful in some ways, basic in others, but, then again, I’ve been immersed in certain land use issues for a while.

Oder also offers additional advice on community media:

Interestingly, the community outreach advice during the Livable Neighborhoods program was rather traditional, advising community groups to make sure they sent press releases to media outlets, including web sites.

Unmentioned was how people and organizations can now create their own media via the web. Consider the ecosystem around Atlantic Yards. Community groups like Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, and BrooklynSpeaks all have their own web sites.


Posted by lumi at 8:41 AM

The Future of New York’s Past

The NY Times
By Sewell Chan

Coverage of a recent panel discussion on the future of NYC contained this celebrity sighting, which spills into the comments section:

...and Norman Oder, the Atlantic Yards critic, were among the faces in the crowd.

If you've been following Norman Oder's accounts of recent panel discussions on the past and future of New York City and its neighborhoods, you may be interested in reading excerpts of the panelists' remarks from “Does New York’s Past Have a Future? A Report on the Preservation Movement’s History; Some Prescriptions for Its Next Century,” posted on the NY Times Empire Zone blog.

Posted by lumi at 7:33 AM

May 15, 2007

On people power, activist journalism, and the roots of modern Brooklyn

Atlantic Yards Report

I reported yesterday on the Atlantic Yards angle of the panels Saturday around the Roots of Modern Brooklyn exhibition, but there was much more of interest.

The exhibit at Borough Hall, organized by Brooklyn College Professor Emeritus Jerome Krase, uses words and graphics to convey a time of enormous ferment and change. The bottom line: “Ultimately, it was the power of ordinary people that revived Brooklyn’s proud but struggling neighborhoods.”

Contrast that with the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement, as I wrote last August, which emphasized the role of government, including eminent domain, in reviving the area around the proposed site, while downplaying the equally important role of historic preservation.

The exhibit, and the panels, fill out much more of the story, identifying more non-governmental actors, including neighborhood, borough, and business groups. And there was a palpable unease about whether Brooklyn, for all its progress in recent years, could remain a place of opportunity.


Posted by lumi at 7:22 AM

May 14, 2007

At three discussions, the Atlantic Yards burr in Bloomberg's boomtown

Atlantic Yards Report

These days, it seems like if you're having a conversation about what's wrong with anything in NYC, Atlantic Yards is bound to come up...

If you’re having a discussion about Brooklyn and development issues, Atlantic Yards, it seems, inevitably comes to the fore.

At a panel discussion last Thursday at the Brooklyn Public Library on equitable use of eminent domain, Atlantic Yards was presented as an example of what not to do. At a 5/5/07 seminar on the Municipal Art Society’s Livable Neighborhoods Program, Atlantic Yards was suggested as exemplifying how developers “leapfrog” communities. (I’ll write about both events shortly.)

And Atlantic Yards came up several times on Saturday, Neighborhood Day, a day of panel discussions keyed to the Roots of Modern Brooklyn exhibit at Borough Hall, which focuses on the borough’s struggle to revive in the 1970s and 1980s.

Near the end of a discussion Saturday that was presented live on BCAT, Park Slope activist and former Assemblyman Joe Ferris offered a contrast between the 1970s and today: “The thing that troubles me now is the recentralization of power. We showed people that, at the block level, you could make a difference.” Hamill-BHB.jpg Ferris observed how neighborhood activists once could influence their community boards, their borough president, City Council, and even—when it existed—the Board of Estimate. “Now I see, with Atlantic Yards, that has been circumvented," he said. "ULURP [the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] is being obliterated by an unelected group of people.”

The moderator, author Pete Hamill, noted that time for the 90-minute program had nearly expired, observing wryly, “I heard the fatal words ‘Atlantic Yards’ and knew we could have another two hours” to continue.


Also, Brooklyn Heights Blog posted an account of the conclusion of the event:

After the speeches, there was a lively discussion that touched on education, the need to preserve the mixed income character of the Borough, and, of course, Atlantic Yards.

Posted by lumi at 6:57 AM

May 10, 2007

It came from the Blogosphere...

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, BLOGFEST TONIGHT

The Brooklyn Blogfest is TONIGHT: Thursday, May 10th at 8 p.m.

Location: The Old Stone House in Park Slope on Fifth Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets

IMPORTANT NOTE: Only 110 people can fit in the Old Stone House. A seat will be held for everyone who has RSVPed until 8:05. Your name will be on the list at the door. After that, we will let everyone in until we hit the magic number. The best bet is to arrive early.

CRog, Pop-Up Cities
If you see it on the Internet, it must be true:

Frank Gehry is following this trend in downtown Brooklyn with his “Atlantic Yards Project.” He is intergrating new buildings with the old, not completely creating a pop-up city but that is the idea… To build a bunch of buildings that fill-in the current holes (or is it space?) with buildings that look like they’ve been there for 50 years.

NoLandGrab: Actually it really IS A POP-UP CITY — Bruce Ratner does NOT plan to spare any of the historic buildings in the project footprint.

The Knickerblogger, Christmas Truce
One "right-wingnut" calls a christmas truce when everyone agrees that Mayor Bloomberg is pretty mediocre and "has supported a half-billion dollars in direct and indirect subsidies for the Atlantic Yards apartment, office, and arena complex in Brooklyn being built by fellow fat cat and subsidy king Bruce Ratner."

From this week's cover story in The Weekly Standard:

Had Rudy proposed a similar level of subsidy for a project like Atlantic Yards, the liberals would have howled with rage...

Knickerblogger rants on:

Anway, now the mystrey of why Mike has been shelling out favors to Ratner and others despite them being no benefit for the city is clear - short term it looks good on paper (though long term it is not) and he also is lining up political favors for what promises to be a comical run for president.

The Gowanus Lounge, Community Input 101: Did ESDC Forget Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods?

It's a little thing, but we couldn't help but note the irony dripping from this email from the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, which is a broad based coalition of Brooklyn organizations, to the Empire State Development Corporation. You might recall the ESDC announced on Monday it was finally appointing an ombudsman to monitor the Atlantic Yards project.

Posted by lumi at 6:52 AM

Forest City Enterprises to Convert Historic Hospital into Apartments

Multi-Housing News
By Kelly Sheehan

Forest City Enterprises Inc. has announced that the company has signed an agreement with Presidio Trust to redevelop a former public hospital, closed since 1981, in San Francisco’s Presidio into an apartment community.

“The Presidio is a national treasure, an ideal project for Forest City to use our adaptive re-use/historic preservation experience,” says Charles A. Ratner, president and CEO of Forest City Enterprises. “By restoring historic landmarks and converting them into vibrant housing and neighborhoods, we are helping to preserve America’s heritage.”


NoLandGrab: That sounds like a great idea. Maybe Charles Ratner can explain how these things work to Bruce Ratner, who is planning to demolish historical resources to build his controversial Atlantic Yards project.

Seriously, while Chuck Ratner's group is trying to build for the 21st Century, Cousin Bruce holds fast to discredited superblock-style plans that crashed and burned by the 1970s.

Posted by lumi at 6:08 AM

May 9, 2007

It came from the Blogosphere...

Blogosphere49a.jpg Queen's Crap, Revenge of the Clown
One comment before quoting "mole 333's" article on Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's threats to clean house at Community Board 6:

Don't like Atlantic Yards? Well then, you're off the community board!

Kinetic Carnival, Ratner & Gehry Eyeing Coney Again?

Recently, the NY Post’s Page Six reported that Bruce Ratner and Frank Gehry were spotted eating hot dogs at Nathan’s in Coney Island. Speculation began to resurface as to the possibility of them scoping out Coney for the Nets stadium. ...
Some time ago, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (who made the case for the Nets arena in Coney) submitted a locational analysis of the arena in Coney Island as comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Despite it probably being an obstruction for the nearby property proposed for residential buildings by Taconic Investments - amusement preservationists would also find it an obstruction that does not fit in with what they wish for in the area. It seems nobody wants the arena. Let’s hope if the Nets are being considered for Coney again – that this does not become a battle between North and South Brooklynytes.

Objectiva 3, A very important post!

No commentary, just a link directly to Norman Oder's "very important" article, "What the Village Voice was to the Washington Square battle, the blogs are to Atlantic Yards."

Brownstoner, House of the Day: 129 South Oxford Street

Two negatives for a house listed for $2.2 million:

First, the backyard basically looks out on Fulton Street and therefore ain't the most private retreat; second, while we think the refrain of "Atlantic Yards Effect" is overused and won't have any real impact on the part of Fort Greene that's north of Fulton, this place is pretty darn close to ground zero.

Posted by lumi at 8:19 AM

Reconsiderations of Jane Jacobs lead inevitably to Atlantic Yards musings

Atlantic Yards Report

In the midst of the Robert Moses revisionism, let's not forget the master builder's philosophical antagonist, Jane Jacobs. In February, City Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden famously assured listeners that we now "plan from the ground up" and follow the principles of Jane Jacobs.

However, Burden had to explain her support for the not-so-ground-up Atlantic Yards, asserting , as if channeling Moses, "We’re a big city and we need big projects."

A few weeks later, Burden got an implicit comeuppance. Jacobs’ name is invoked “in some of the most erroneous situations,” Roberta Brandes Gratz, founder of the Center for the Living City at Purchase College, told the audience at a 3/7/07 symposium, Interpreting and Misinterpreting Jane Jacobs, at the Museum of the City of New York.

And, as the panel discussion continued, it inevitably focused on Atlantic Yards, the city's poster child for controversy over planning.


Posted by lumi at 8:15 AM

May 8, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

The NY Times
By Michael Powell

This year's intellectual debate amongst city planners and leaders is over Robert Moses's legacy. The significance of this debate is that the attitude towards NYC's 20th-century master planner has repercussions on the shape of NYC's future — Atlantic Yards for instance:

Looking forward, the revisionists assert a broader claim: A Moses-like vision is needed to guard against another slide toward obsolescence. The transformations of Williamsburg, the Atlantic Yards tract in Brooklyn and Long Island City in Queens are harbingers of this assertive mood.


NoLandGrab: Some may characterize the current wave of development as "assertive," while others call running headfirst into historic density, eminent domain abuse and lack of sensible infrastructure planning AGGRESSIVE.

Posted by lumi at 7:48 AM

May 6, 2007

Ratner’s plan isn’t the only way to go with Atlantic Yards


By Joe Maniscalco

Forest City Ratner’s costly Atlantic Yards plan is a lousy deal for Brooklyn, say participants of a day-long community planning workshop held last weekend at the United Methodist Church on St. Felix Street.

“It’s very expensive, too dense and too out of scale and context to the rest of the neighborhood,” event coordinator Tom Angotti said. “I think people should be looking at alternatives because there are better alternatives.”

Nearby Boerum Hill resident Heloise Gruneberg sat at the Transportation table – one of six planning groups examining areas of concern to the community and talked about the “boondoggle” she feels officials and Forest City Ratner has perpetrated on the neighborhood.

“This is an effort to get the community’s voice in the big picture,” she said. “We’ve been danced around by the politicians. This developer has been able to get away with crimes and misdemeanors as far as I’m concerned.”


Posted by amy at 11:54 AM

May 4, 2007

Meet the new Yards

The Brooklyn Papers
By Ariella Cohen

Armed with a digital projector and a lot of lung power, a group of planning wonks came together last Saturday to create a new development at the Atlantic Yards site in the (unlikely) event that the various lawsuits aimed at blocking Ratner’s $4-billion residential, retail, office and arena project succeed.

“If this project is stopped, we must be prepared with a plan that the community wants to move forward,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Prospect Heights), who attended the event, which was modeled after the “UNITY” planning forums she organized in 2005.

Those planning forums created a rival bid for the Yards site, the Extell Development plan, which was rejected by the state (in a sham process, Yards opponents say).

This time around, seven-hour think-fest was sponsored by the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, a coalition of 26 civic groups, and the Center for Community Planning and Development at Hunter College.


Posted by lumi at 10:11 AM

May 3, 2007

UNITY 2007 plan for railyards gets started

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder reports on the UNITY 2007 community planning workshop.


Some 70 people gathered on Saturday for UNITY 2007, the start of an effort to craft a community plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard, should Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project fail, stall, or be partly built.

“It’s not about ‘no’ or NIMBY,” said architect Marshall Brown, lead designer of the original UNITY (UNderstanding Imagining and Transforming the Yards) plan in 2004, which included mid-rise rather than high-rise buildings, was limited to the 8.5-acre railyards, and, rather than demapping streets, extended the street grid from Fort Greene to Prospect Heights. “It’s about saying yes to responsible development.”

Planners aim to draw on Saturday’s work over the next six week to draft a plan to take to community-based organizations and local elected officials, explained Tom Angotti of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, which convened the session with the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN). “It’s not a done deal,” he insisted. (At right, Angotti is at center, flanked by Ron Shiffman (left) and Brown. Photos by Jonathan Barkey.)

Rather than directly build on the 2004 version of UNITY, the participants, working at Hanson Place United Methodist Church in Fort Greene, started from more of a tabula rasa. That offered the advantage of fresh thinking, based on updated context, and the disadvantage of revisiting some topics already treated in details. Such charrettes often take days, and this one lasted only five hours, with about half of that time for intensive topic analysis.

By the end of the day, the group had made some progress, but also had left some key questions open. Notably, planners were not yet ready to estimate the size and scale of a potential development—a crucial factor given the cost of decking over the railyard.


Posted by lumi at 8:38 AM

May 1, 2007

The Fort Greene/Clinton Hill rezoning, 80-foot height limits, and Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder examines the difference between NY City's and NY State's conception of contextual development:

What's wrong with this picture, from the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which shows projected views from the south side of Dean Street between Sixth and Carlton Avenues? Nothing, according to the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) Atlantic Yards review.

However, a proposed city rezoning of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, adjacent to Prospect Heights and to the northeast corner of the Atlantic Yards site, proposes 80-foot height limits.

This comes in reaction to out-of-scale buildings of 11 to 13 stories that themselves represent far less dramatic change than that proposed in Atlantic Yards, with a 272-foot building (Building 15, at far left above) next to low-rise residential buildings at the northeast corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue and far taller buildings adjacent and nearby.


NoLandGrab: You gotta love how Gehry Partners ripped off Jonathan Barkey's photos and took the credit.

Posted by lumi at 9:39 AM

April 30, 2007

Atlantic Yards Revisioning

Seeing Green attended the UNITY 2007 charette and posted his observations on his blog.


"It's not the Land Use, it's the Land Experience," said one participant in the Unity 2007 charette sponsored by the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, Hunter College CCPD and the ever-indefatigable Council Member Letitia James.

A very telling point. Atlantic Yards as envisioned by Forest City Ratner (at right) does not allay the on-street experience of out-of-scale buildings, closed-off and privatized open space, destruction of the Brooklyn street fabric or the wall of separation created between two old and vibrant Brooklyn neighborhoods. Not to mention that it will be the densent built environment in the US.

About seventy-five were present Saturday at the charette....

The charette participants were offered the choice of several groups to join: Long term Planning, Transportation, Open space and Connections, Affordable Housing, etc. Each was run by a facilitator and was asked to consider three scenarios: if Ratner built Phase I of his project (essentially a third of the build-out); if the entire project was built out (in which case this exercises was doomed to irrelevancy, I thought,) and if nothing of his was built, which clean slate approach would provide the most interest in new design.
What one comes away with from this exercise is that the sum of ideas is more than the parts; that a group of diverse people with interest but not necessarily expertise (though there were many planners and architects and engineers present,) can brainstorm together to create a cohesive vision that far surpasses the pedestrian efforts of a developer like FCB.


Posted by lumi at 8:11 AM

April 27, 2007

AYR roundup on density and planning issues

One Atlantic Yards Report item about a Nathan Glazer lecture got left in the rubble after news of yesterday's collapse at the Ward Bakery building. Today Norman Oder follows up Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's excuses for Atlantic Yards.

GlazerBook.pngAt Glazer talk on modernism, AY is poster child for too much density

Nathan Glazer, the eminent Harvard sociologist and social critic, came to New York on April 17 to speak about his new collection of essays, From a Cause to a Style: Modernist Architecture’s Encounter with the American City--and Atlantic Yards came in for some criticism..

Protest, he said at one point, “is one form of discovering when density is too much,” and that certainly points to Brooklyn. (He spoke at the Yale Club, sponsored by the Manhattan Institute.)

Doctoroff (sort of) says city didn't "reach out" regarding Atlantic Yards

Deputy Mayor Dan Docotroff on lessons learned:

“The first thing we’ve learned is that it’s absolutely critical to get the communities involved right up front. I will be honest—to the extent that we’ve made mistakes in the past, it’s because we haven’t reached out early enough or aggressively enough to communities.

NoLandGrab: Is it even worth the trouble to say, "We told you so."

Posted by lumi at 9:21 AM

The Brooklyn Paper Roundup

Good Bloomy, bad Bloomy (Editorial)

The two faces of Mayor Bloomberg are again on display. One day, the mayor is one of the nation’s leading advocates of environmentally sound, community-sensitive, sensible development. The next day, he’s a backroom crony greasing the wheels for a developer who ignored the community.
Good Bloomy’s speech on Sunday suggested that the process that created Atlantic Yards is exactly what he doesn’t want to happen again.

“As our search for land becomes more pressing in the coming decades, we must be prepared to work with communities to explore the potential of these sites,” the mayor’s PlaNYC proposal says.

Ratner’s wrecking ball hits, protested
The Brooklyn Paper roundup of the week's events garnered the usual response from Ratner:

A Ratner spokesman, Loren Riegelhaupt, responded to an e-mail request for comment from The Brooklyn Paper. His response? “We have no comment on the lawsuit or the demolition,” Riegelhaupt wrote.

Kiss their glass! Library still in trouble

Brooklyn Public Library officials reportedly said this week that their efforts to raise money for an iconic, $135-million glass-walled performing arts branch have failed — and that the project can’t go forward at this point.
Last year, The Brooklyn Paper reported that library trustees approached developer Bruce Ratner, a longtime BAM trustee, about funding the facility, which would be located just a few blocks from his $4-billion Atlantic Yards mega-project.

But those talks apparently went nowhere.

Posted by lumi at 8:23 AM

April 24, 2007

Doctoroff's discomfort: Atlantic Yards is an "extreme case"

Atlantic Yards Report

Doctoroff-WNYC.jpgNorman Oder analyzes Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's interview on The Brian Lehrer Show, as "Lisa in Brooklyn" references Atlantic Yards in a call about congestion pricing and Lehrer revisits the issue when talking about appropriate density:

Doctoroff was generally unruffled, layering a slightly folky, almost professorial air over his investment banker's confidence, as he discussed Mayor Mike Bloomberg's sustainability plan. However, when pressed on Atlantic Yards, he quickly moved on to less controversial issues.

And, just as Atlantic Yards serves as an example counter to those practices cited in PlaNYC2030, so yesterday did Doctoroff's examples contrast with the story of Atlantic Yards.

Either developer Forest City Ratner is thankful that Atlantic Yards moved forward before the city promoted more transparent development procedures, or the city's new push will help the plaintiffs in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case argue that the Brooklyn project was a sweetheart deal.


Posted by lumi at 11:12 AM

April 23, 2007

Atlantic Yards Report on PlaNYC


The silence of PlaNYC regarding Atlantic Yards (and the right way to develop railyards)

atlanticyardssh.gifNorman Oder scours the Housing section of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC for signs of Atlantic Yards:

Yesterday, when discussing PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York, Mayor Mike Bloomberg called congestion pricing "the elephant in the room." When it comes to the housing section of the plan, however, the elephant in the room is Atlantic Yards.
While numerous examples of past, present, and future projects are provided in the Housing chapter, Atlantic Yards is conspicuously unmentioned.

Given that the project remains high on the mayoral agenda, the omission is curious. Is Atlantic Yards so controversial that it's wise to avoid it?

Or has the production of the new plan pointed out the flaws in the process that led to Atlantic Yards? Indeed, the report recomments a planning process before decking over a railyard--a distinct contrast to the city's embrace of one developer's plan for the Vanderbilt Yard at the heart of the Atlantic Yards plan.

Congestion pricing plan announced; backlash continues

Is congestion pricing the "elephant in the room?" Norman Oder looks at the plan and the implications on Atlantic Yards:

But the big one is a congestion pricing pilot scheduled to begin by Spring 2009, aimed to charge drivers who enter the Central Business District in Manhattan in certain hours. The money would be directed toward improving public transit and thus offer opportunities to those most burdened by the charge, though obviously the transition period could be dicey.
The concept gains support from left-ish transportation advocates (who are holding a rally at 10:30 a.m. today, noting that the mayor's plan results in "reducing car use and giving more space and priority to bus riders, pedestrians and bicycles"), wonky transportation analysts, and business groups.

It has been opposed by outer borough politicians and officials, mindful that it would hit some of their constituents--who lack good public transit access to Manhattan--the hardest. It's also been opposed by trucking companies and garage owners.

Congestion pricing is seen as necessary for the Atlantic Yards plan to have a ghost of a chance, though political backers of the plan like Borough President Marty Markowitz, as well as developer Forest City Ratner, have remained quiet about the issue.

Flatbush Avenue BRT: not until 2015?


While the city plans to pilot five bus rapid transit routes, one in each borough, in the next few years, the first one in Brooklyn would be Nostrand Avenue. A second round of five routes, likely including Flatbush Avenue, would not be completed until 2015, according to p. 4 of Appendix B to the mayor's PlaNYC report, issued yesterday.

There may be room for certain routes in the second round, including Flatbush Avenue, to open before that date. Still, transportation advocates believe that BRT is part of a package, including congestion pricing (which the city hopes to begin by Spring 2009) crucial to make any Atlantic Yards transportation plan work. The arena is scheduled to open in 2009, though that schedule seems unlikely.

City plans new push for solar energy; could "solar zoning" emerge?


New York City's energy-related initiatives within PlanNYC2030 include a new push for solar energy.
Might the city entertain the notion of "solar zoning"? No such proposal is specified; however, the exploration of the tension between scale and solar likely will increase.

Posted by lumi at 7:32 AM

April 21, 2007

Where is the Community in "CBA"?

Develop Don't Destroy, Brooklyn comments on the Metro article about Community Benefits Agreements and Delia Hunley-Adossa, chair of the Community Benefits Agreement Executive Committee's statement about the community's concerns:

"We told them, ‘Our concern is you never came to us. You jumped and went straight to the ESDC, to the new guy," she said after the meeting. "Had you come to us, you would have known we are addressing these issues."
"You never came to us." That sounds familiar. That is exactly what occurred with this "CBA." Ratner never came to community. He went to a few groups who supported his project from day one and created a series of private contracts–thus creating the myths of the "Legally Binding, Landmark Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement."

The idea that the community asked for decades of "interim surface parking" for 1,500 cars is to suggest something that is literally beyond belief. Furthermore the politicians expressing concerns about "Atlantic Yards" are accountable to all of their constituents, not just the 8 groups who signed the "CBA." Had those groups actually signed the "CBA" not just with Ratner, but also with city and state government, this all would be an entirely different story. But that didn't happen.

It is important to note a few things. The "CBA" group is represented by a PR firm hired by Forest City Ratner, and it looks like that firm is doing its job. Also, the "CBA" group has never held a public meeting to inform the broad community of their efforts, their agreement or the work they are doing, nor have they provided a forum for the broad community to communicate with those 8 "CBA" groups. In other words, the "CBA" group has dismissed the "collective body," and worse yet, attacked a big segment of it for standing up for its rights.


Posted by amy at 11:45 AM

Why the CBA Coalition is not like the ESDC

Atlantic Yards Report

Yesterday, in Metro, Delia-Hunley Adossa of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition, bizarrely tried to equate the coalition with the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Metro reported how Hunley-Adossa complained to local politicians that they should have gone through the coalition to express concerns about demolitions of buildings for interim surface parking:
“We told them, ‘Our concern is you never came to us. You jumped and went straight to the ESDC, to the new guy,” she said after the meeting. “Had you come to us, you would have known we are addressing these issues.”


Well, the CBA signers have never held an open public meeting to answer questions from the community they represent. They are significantly funded by developer Forest City Ratner, though the developer won't reveal how much has been paid. They are represented by a p.r. firm paid for by FCR.

Hunley-Adossa's group, Brooklyn Endeavor Experience, is supposed to monitor environmental impacts during the construction process. The CBA states:
Therefore, the Developer shall be in compliance with this Agreement by following the state mandated process.

So maybe the elected officials should be talking to the ESDC, the overseers of the state-mandated process, after all.


Posted by amy at 11:39 AM

April 20, 2007

Atlantic Yards: The Alternative Plan

Daily Gotham

"Mole333" explains that there were actually four plans, "Yes...FOUR plans," for the Vanderbilt Railyards.

One of those Community-Based Plans, the Unity Plan, really was designed with full community input, led by Councilwoman Letisha James. This is an idea that really should be seen more: the community working out its OWN vision for development with government USING that vision as a guide for actual development. If you like the idea of COMMUNITY-based development, you can be a part of making the Unity Plan a reality.

Here are some details:
Unity 2007
An all-day workshop to create a community-driven development plan for Brooklyn's Vanderbilt Yards

April 28, 2007
10 am -- 4 pm
Hanson Place United Methodist Church
144 Saint Felix Street at Hanson Place. Brooklyn, NY

Click here for more details about the UNITY 2007 workshop.

Posted by lumi at 8:46 AM

April 19, 2007

Brooklyn Objects to 1910 Bakery Demolition for Development

Preservation Online
By Tovah Pentelovitch


"We are saying to Mr. Ratner, ‘Please, preserve this building and make whatever you plan to do fits in. Don't destroy our history and our neighborhood,'" says Patti Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, a neighborhood group formed in 2002 to deal with what she calls "predatory developers."

Last month, Forest City Ratner released a statement saying, "The New York State Preservation Office has confirmed that there is no feasible alternative to demolishing the Ward Bread Bakery Building."

Catherine Jimenez, spokesperson for the state historic preservation office, confirms her office's conclusion. "We did a feasibility study and determined that converting the building would require substantial modifications that would be costly and would significantly alter the historic properties of the building," she says.

Hagan refuses to accept this reasoning. "Had this building been in the SoHo part of Manhattan, there would be fights over who got to adaptively reuse it," Hagan says.


Posted by lumi at 9:30 AM

"No Demolition for Parking," but Will Persuasion or Court Action Do the Trick?

Brooklyn Downtown Star

Norman Oder files this fashion report from last weekend's rally:

While presumably everyone attending supported the rally's stated purpose, some went further. Perhaps half the attendees wore either the orange BrooklynSpeaks t-shirts given out at the door or the purple shirts of marshals reserved for event organizers. Meanwhile, a few dozen people came in DDDB shirts, but the majority of attendees avoided logos.

Included are quotes from speeches by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council's Gib Veconi, City Councilmembers Letitia James, Bill de Blasio and David Yassky, Reverend Clinton Miller, and State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, and a response from Forest City Executive VP Bruce Bender.


Posted by lumi at 9:14 AM

April 16, 2007

Atlantic Yards Critics: Parking Lots Would Blight Area for Decades

Project Would Create 1,596 Temporary Spaces During First Construction Phase

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
By Sarah Ryley

During the first phase of construction — the 18,000-seat basketball arena and five high-rises — developer Forest City Ratner Companies would clear two blocks for 1,414 temporary surface parking spaces and 182 temporary underground parking spaces, according to the plan approved by the state days before Gov. Eliot Spitzer took office.

When that phase is completed, Ratner would construct 11 other high-rises and provide a total of 3,670 underground parking spaces; some would be reserved for residents of the 6,000 units of housing planned within the project.

“We’re scratching our heads. We can’t really figure out why they need this amount of parking near the third-largest transit hub in the city,” said Municipal Arts Society planner Jasper Goldman. “If you provide the parking spaces, people will use them. But if you don’t provide the parking, people would have more incentive to use mass transit.”

Of the temporary parking, Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco said, “The state required that we provide temporary, paid parking to construction workers in order to limit their use of on-street parking and to help reduce disruptions to the community throughout the building process.”


NoLandGrab: Once again, Ratner's PR flacks are hiding behind the Environmental Impact Statement. "The State" hasn't "required" Ratner to build parking. If that were true then Atlantic Yards would be the first project in recent NYC history that requires its own parking.

Any idiot who has studied the issue of eminent domain can explain what is happening. Ratner is doing what developers always do when facing a serious eminent domain lawsuit — they take down every building possible in order to isolate the remaining homeowners and to make the community restless to have something built in place of the developer-created desolation.

Posted by lumi at 7:27 PM


For Immediate Release: April 16, 2007

Nor'easter Doesn't Stop Rally -- Parks, Not Parking Lots!

The wind blew and the rain fell, but over 200 rally-ers rallied, moving inside the warm and inviting Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. Joined by State Senator Eric Adams, Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies, New York City Council Members Letitia James, David Yassky, and Bill DeBlasio, Rev. David Dyson of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church and Rev. Clinton Miller of Brown Memorial Baptist Church, the sponsors of the campaign called for a moratorium on demolitions at the Atlantic Yards site.

Speakers and performers called on the State and the City to rethink their plan to permit Forest City Ratner to demolish two entire city blocks, including the historic Ward Bakery, to create “temporary” parking lots for over 1600 cars. The surface parking lots will occupy approximately 7 acres of the Atlantic Yards site – an area the size of two Union Square Parks, and ironically, the same amount of acreage as the project’s promised open space being designed by landscape architect Laurie Olin. The developer calls the lots “temporary” because they plan to build the second phase of the project on top of them. But members of Forest City Ratner’s own team, including Olin, estimate that the second phase might not be built for 15 or 20 years, if at all. Said rally organizer Jon Orcutt of co-sponsor Tri-State Transportation Campaign, “Parking lots are not a benefit to the communities. They will bring more traffic, more congestion, and add to the poor air quality of the area. That's not transit-oriented or sustainable development.”

Local residents have complained several times over the past few weeks that asbestos removal has proceeded without the necessary protections. One building inspector called to the sceneshrugged and remarked that he couldn't see any asbestos. Asbestos fibers are microscopic, however. “Residents are concerned about the health and safety of their families during construction and demolition, but the right hand does not seem to know what the left is doing from day to day,” said Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of co-sponsor, Fifth Avenue Committee.

“We need government oversight, and a coordinator of infrastructure -- there are many public agencies involved but no one whose job it is is to mind the store.” said Democratic District Leader Jo Anne Simon, who has been working with the Brooklyn Speaks sponsors. “The developer's efforts to fast-track the demolitions before systems can be put in place to protect the public is frightening. This needs to change before any more buildings are demolished.”

Recently, developer Forest City Ratner indicated that demolitions could start as early as April 18, 2007. “Demolition is permanent, you can’t go back. We risk paving paradise to put up a parking lot. We've had that before. It wasn't good for our communities or our economy,” said Deb Howard, Executive Director of the Pratt Area Community Council. “Brooklyn is getting the opposite of what was promised at Atlantic Yards.”

Performers at the rally included the Lafayette Inspirational Ensemble, and jazz musicians Pheeroan Ak Laff and Ned Rotherberg. Singer Dave Hall was also on hand. Hall led the audience in singing the apt refrain, “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot,” from Joni Mitchell's popular 1970's song, “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Story and Video of the rally is available at

The campaign was initiated in September, 2006 to provide a platform for New Yorkers to push for major changes to the Atlantic Yards project. The campaign was organized by Atlantic Avenue LDC, Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Fifth Avenue Committee, Municipal Art Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Park Slope Civic Council, Pratt Area Community Council, Project for Public Spaces, Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

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Posted by lumi at 6:17 PM

Smoke (and Mirrors) on the Water

A NY Times editorial contains some lessons for Atlantic Yards, really:

A first look at the drawing of the latest development proposal for the Yonkers waterfront is likely to elicit the kind of reaction a puzzled parent gives a bright-eyed toddler with paint-smeared fingers. “This is interesting, sweetie. Am I holding it right-side up?”

But then it hits you that this is serious....

But the main problem with this project, which is thankfully in the early stages of approval, is not its debatable aesthetics. It’s the scale....

When you add this new project to the others bubbling along in Yonkers — the $3.1 billion partnership of Stuever Fidelco Cappelli to build massive amounts of housing and offices and a ballpark downtown, and Forest City Ratner’s Ridge Hill mini-city to the north — you get the impression that the city’s eagerness to throw itself open to splashy development has trumped caution and patient good sense.

It’s impressive that the developers and architect have gone so far out of their way to imagine a complex that is so environmentally friendly, with rooftop windmills providing all its power and solar panels heating its water. And it’s wonderful that they want to include a contemporary art museum in the mix, instead of the usual lame assortment of high-end retail shops and services.

But all the eco-friendly attributes and all the chic extras amount to nothing if they blind the city to an oversized hulk that will squat by the river for generations, blocking light and diminishing public enjoyment by its massiveness.


NoLandGrab: There but for the grace of God, goes Brooklyn.

Posted by lumi at 5:57 PM

A ‘lot’ of debate

Rain doesn’t dampen rally over Atlantic Yards parking

By Amy Zimmer


The torrential rains didn’t keep more than 200 people away from a rally yesterday against Forest City Ratner’s plan to demolish empty buildings to create a seven-acre parking lot for the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project.

Ratner officials say the lot is needed for construction uses, but protesters believe it’s for the Nets arena expected to open in 2009. They worry it would encourage more traffic despite the project’s proximity to the city’s third largest transit hub.

“In the age of sustainability and global warming and added people to New York, it’s an obscenity to knock down buildings to build surface parking,” said Jon Orcutt, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign advocacy group at the event at the Lafeyette Presbyterian Church organized by a community coalition behind

Metro included a bunch of nonsense from "The Other Bruce":

Bruce Bender, executive vice president at Forest City Ratner, issued a statement explaining that the state’s Environmental Impact Statement mandated “temporary, paid parking to construction workers to limit their use of on-street parking so they would not take already hard to find spots within the surrounding communities.”
He added, “While opponents will say they should be using mass-transit to commute to and from the location, as many of them do, it is a tad difficult when your job requires that you arrive with tools and other gear.”


NoLandGrab: Construction of the World Trade Center site doesn't require enormous surface parking lots, nor does Ratner's own project, The Times Tower.

In addition, Bruce Ratner's own Environmental Impact Statement conveniently chose not to study the availability of on-street parking during the morning rush period. The Final Environmental Impact Statement did incredibly claim (page 12-19) that a minimum of 1,930 on-street spaces would be available within a quarter mile of the project site during the evening or weekend peak periods.

For the morning rush, the EIS determined that there are 1,342 available off-street parking spots within a half mile of the arena.

BTW, the Environmental Impact Statement doesn't "mandate" anything, it's just a disclosure document.

When is the press going to learn, that just because the administration says there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it doesn't mean it's true? Assertions of the need to demolish historic buildings for parking are just as erroneous and, like a war, has implications beyond the claim itself.

Posted by lumi at 11:22 AM

April 13, 2007

Demolitions in the shadow of Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

An analysis of demolition permits filed and socio-economic conditions in Prospect Heights challeges Ratner's contention in "the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement that the Atlantic Yards site would likely remain unchanged without the new project."


The pressure on development in Prospect Heights, cited yesterday in discussing the proposed Prospect Heights Historic District, is made clear in some new maps produced by the Municipal Art Society (MAS), which track demolition permits issued in 2006.

One map (excerpt at right) charts the permits against recent rezonings. The darker the shading, the more intense the number of demolition permits. Clearly, there are strong trends toward demolition and new construction in eastern Prospect Heights and western Crown Heights, notably around the Washington Avenue corridor just east of the Atlantic Yards site.

(The cluster of demolitions in the western segment of the Atlantic Yards site likely had much to do with demolitions conducted by Forest City Ratner. The Atlantic Yards site, in blue, is not a rezoning but a state development plan.)


Posted by lumi at 9:58 AM

April 12, 2007

April 15: Rally Against Ratner, Where Is The Litigation Support?

OnNYTurf provides a link to the rally from its highly excellent ONYT subway map and then explains that, even though DDDB is supporting the rally, Brooklyn Speaks, "the quasi anti-Atlantic Yards project led by Municipal Art Society," isn't scratching Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's (DDDB) back.

Brooklyn Speaks has remained mute on supporting the lawsuits lead by DDDB. The question becomes are letter writing campaigns and rallies against parking effective when your organization seems unprepared to play hardball - both politically and financially.

Brooklyn Speaks remains silent on the use of eminent domain in this case because several of its members and most notably Municipal Art Society feels it can't comment on eminent domain use in the Atlantic Yards case because sometimes ED use is justified. This was the rationale told to me several months ago by Jasper Goldman a MAS representative. The logic of this makes no sense, that MAS can not comment on a particular use of Eminent Domain just because some other cases are good. This would be the whole point in commenting.

Instead Brooklyn Speaks flounders around continuing their letter writing campaigns to Spitzer and Bloomberg and hold silly rallies like this to protest surface parking.
If you want real public pressure you need a united public front, and if you want real financial pressure on the developer you need a full court press in the courts. Rallies are nice but do not present the same teeth that lawsuits do.


Posted by lumi at 10:27 AM

The Prospect Heights Historic District and Atlantic Yards

Atlantic Yards Report

The "blighted" Atlantic Yards site not only contains some historic buildings, parts are immediately adjacent to the proposed Prospect Heights Historic District. And the expected development, and its spinoffs, are causing preservationists to pressure the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to designate Prospects Heights as a historic district.

A Prospect Heights Historic District (blue outline in map below) is already listed on the State and National Registers, but S/NR listing, as its known, does not protect the integrity of buildings the way an LPC designation would. Hence the new effort, led by the Municipal Art Society (MAS), the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, and others.

The map prepared by MAS suggests a much larger outline, in red. Note that the northern finger of the existing and proposed historic district, on the west side of Carlton Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets, would be directly opposite the Atlantic Yards project at its north and east edges.

On the south side of Dean Street, six buildings east of Sixth Avenue, would be the (S/NR-eligible) Swedish Baptist Church/Dean Street Historic District, consisting of townhouses and churches; its western border would be immediately adjacent to Atlantic Yards.

Given the value of historic buildings, and the growth in Brooklyn, it raises a question about whether the proposed site would remain substantially unchanged without the Atlantic Yards plan. The ESDC said it would, despite much skepticism from community groups.


Posted by lumi at 10:15 AM

My View: Pave paradise, put up a parking lot


Jasper Goldman from the Municipal Art Society explains the problem with Bruce Ratner's plan to level blocks-o-buildings to put up a parking lot and wonders how in the hell this fits in with Mayor Bloomberg's plans for a sustainable city and environmental innitiatives:

For those who haven’t been following this, Forest City Ratner wants to demolish two city blocks (including historic buildings) to create more than 7 acres of surface parking lots for construction workers and, ultimately, arena patrons. (That’s about twice the size of Union Square Park.) The developer calls the lots “temporary,” because they ultimately plan to build the second phase of the project on top of them. But “temporary” could become permanent. Even members of the developer’s own team believe that the second phase of the project won’t be built for 15 to 20 years — if it’s built at all. Historically, they’re right. In Long Island City, Queens West is still being built nearly 30 years after construction started. In Downtown Brooklyn, MetroTech took three times longer to build than planned. You get the idea.

The reality is that the city and state are letting Forest City Ratner demolish blocks for parking lots that will be with us for a generation or longer.

Parking lots aren’t just a huge blight on the surrounding neighborhoods. They are also an invitation to drive — leading to worse traffic, air quality and quality of life for Brooklynites, to say nothing of carbon emissions and the impact on climate change. Building parking lots in dense urban areas flies in the face of sustainability.

And the justifications for the parking lots don’t make any sense either. Do we really need to drive to a project site next to the third largest transit hub in the city? Why has no similar large-scale project in the city — including the former World Trade Center site — ever required the demolition of two city blocks for parking?


Posted by lumi at 9:25 AM

Rally Against Demolition for Parking

Listing from the Village Voice:

We know that Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project has been widely criticized, but did you know that part of his “urban renewal” plan include demolishing two city blocks—with historic buildings on them—just to make room for parking? If this pisses you off, join the Rally Against Demolition for Parking today [April 15] and let Mike Bloomberg and Eliot Spitzer know that this is unacceptable. Lending their support and voices will be the Lafayette Inspirational choir, singer Dave Hall, and a number of guest speakers. (Switzer)

At 2, Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, Brooklyn, Multiple Venues call for schedule & venue information, $free


Posted by lumi at 8:14 AM

Rally Planned to Oppose Atlantic Yards Demolition

Brooklyn Downtown Star

The controversial Atlantic Yards Project will be the subject of a protest rally on Sunday, as community members work to prevent the demolition of two city blocks to make room for temporary parking lots.

"Rally Against Demolition for Parking" was spearheaded by, a website that organizes and encourages community members to petition their elected officials regarding more public involvement in the development of the Atlantic Yards. Gib Veconi, a member of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, claims that the demolition is typical of Forest City Ratner's reneging of promises, refusal to open the plans to public discussion, and lack of consideration for the surrounding neighborhoods.


Posted by lumi at 8:11 AM

April 11, 2007

Brooklyn Heights and the beginning of historic preservation

Atlantic Yards Report

BHHD.jpgNorman Oder visits an exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society and reflects on the history and role of the preservation movement in NYC and how it hangs in the balance with the forces of "progress."

A new exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Landmark and Legacy: Brooklyn Heights and the Preservation Movement in America, traces the important story of the first historic district: Brooklyn Heights. (Charleston, SC, New Orleans, Washington, DC, Santa Fe, Boston, and others had previously established such districts, requiring landowners to maintain the external appearance of their buildings. Later, federal and state tax credits were established to ease the potential burden on owners.)

As co-curator Francis Morrone writes in the exhibit text:

The Brooklyn Heights Historic District changed New York forever. To say that is not an exaggeration. During decades in which the press said there was an "urban crisis," when ideas like "planned shrinkage" were discussed in high places, when pundits said the American city was an anachronism, when crime and housing abandonment dominated people's perceptions of New York, the preservation movement gave New Yorkers a new sense of their city's virtues -- something in which to take pride, and with which to make us fall in love with the city all over again.

That's meaningful, because, as I've noted, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Atlantic Yards downplays the role of historic preservation in the Brooklyn neighborhoods surrounding the proposed site, even though a 1974 city study acknowledged “reviving brownstone residential neighborhoods” nearby a possible arena site at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. (Morrone has joined the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board.)


Posted by lumi at 7:36 AM

April 8, 2007

It came from the Blogosphere...

Blogosphere42.jpgThe Written Nerd, Comment: Easter Sunday

Happy Easter!

Here's the (quite literate) Easter sermon from my church, Old First in Brooklyn. (Check out what our Rev has to say on the Atlantic Yards; it's as close as he gets to fire and brimstone.)

Gowanus Lounge, Rally Against Atlantic Yards Demolition of Prospect Heights for Parking

There will be a rally next Sunday, April 15, at 2PM to protest planned demolitions of two blocks of buildings in Prospect Heights that will be used as parking lots. The rally is sponsored by Brooklyn Speaks and will take place on Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues — the location of one of the proposed parking lots. The rally will ask the state to stop the demolition of the two blocks in Prospect Heights--including the historic Ward Bakery--to create three enormous parking lots for 1,400 cars.
Brooklyn Speaks quotes Andy Wiley-Schwarz, vice president of Project for Public Spaces, as saying, “No other large-scale project in the city has required the demolition of two city blocks for parking. This is 1950s-era Detroit-style urban planning.”

Brownstoner, Atlantic Yards & Property Value
Someone thinking of moving to the neighborhood, despite Atlantic Yards:

We are thinking of purchasing a 2bd/2ba, 1100 sq ft condo around 3rd Ave and Atlantic. We only intend to live in it for 5 or so years. Wondering what people think about this location as an investment over 5 years and whether the property value will be affected positively or negatively by either the Atlantic Yards project or the Gowanas development. Does the introduction of multiple bldgs with new condos to the market increase or decrease the property value. Would we be better off buying in Sunset Park investment-wise? Thanks for your help! Nervous first time buyers.

Wandering Medusa, Oh, the places you'd live
Running across a couple moving away from Atlantic Yards:

But for someone with the right kind of inspiration, I can envision something great. The building is on a quaint brownstone block, close to everything. Okay, I fell a little bit in love with the block. One of the couples I met while waiting for the landlord said they currently lived right at the other edge of Atlantic Yards, hence their desire to move. They seemed confident this was far enough away to be unaffected (although what I've read of the years of street closings for construction, late night truck convoys, etc., would likely be a problem.)

Brooklyn Bears Community Gardens, Environmental Impacts

The Bear’s are now officially part of a huge lawsuit announced today aiming to bring the “Atlantic Yards” project (which would loom over the garden) to a halt, and send it back to the drawing boards.

Posted by lumi at 8:48 PM

One-way debate continues

The Brooklyn Paper

The traffic changes proposed by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) for Park Slope are discussed further in this week's letters section. The consensus: the DOT plan is a mistake.

The last letter on the page "Blame Bruce, Part II" sums up so well what is wrong with how public money is being used to advance the Atlantic Yards proposal:

To the editor,

There are so many legitimate objections that can be raised against the Atlantic Yards project, and you raised a key one in your editorial, “The Ratner Rip-off” (March 17). In it, you argued that the public needs to know much more about the financing of this project.

It is bad enough that billions of state dollars are being given to one developer, but is beyond scandalous that the details of such a large public project are kept hidden from the taxpayer. All we really know for sure is what the newspapers have gleaned, what politicians have let slip, and what assumptions haven’t been publicly denied.

The greatest factor facing any developer is that of risk; will a project make money or lose money? In the case of Atlantic Yards, the state and city have offered so much financial support that Ratner is all but guaranteed a profit, no matter how badly planned or executed it may be.

Once we compare the money being spent by all of the relevant government entities, and the subsidies being given to Ratner, it’s reasonable to wonder why the state is partnering with him rather than doing it alone, or with a more-talented and accomplished development company.

Forest City Ratner or the Empire State Development Corporation are more than welcome to open their documents publicly and prove us all wrong, and yet they haven’t. To this day, the cornerstone of this development is an arena for the Nets, and still no one will say for sure that the contract even commits the team to moving there and staying there. If Ratner gets a better offer to keep the team in New Jersey, can he leave the team there, and still retain all of the property?

The lack of answers can’t be remedied by another politician assuring us “these things have all been taken into consideration” without letting the public know what the contracts really say or what the answers really are. If the future of Brooklyn is being decided by people who would prefer that we not know what they’re doing, by what right do they expect us to assume they’re doing the right thing?

Secrecy breeds distrust, and usually for good reasons.

Brian Kenny, Park Slope

Please check out the other letters, too.

Posted by steve at 9:30 AM

Atlantic Yards Report Double-Dose

The Atlantic Yards Report

Atlantic Yards: BANANA, or collusion?

It seems that Atlantic Yards came up as a subject of a panel discussion last Wednesday at a New York Civic meeting.

There were complaints from some on the panel that nothing can get built in New York. Henry Stern tries to invent a new sign to hang on those who want responsible development: BANANA.

Former Parks Commissioner Stern, whose mumbling, self-indulgent anecdotes were a drag on the evening discussion, went for a laugh, suggesting that "NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) has been superseded by BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone)."

Then another panelist member, Timothy Mennel, notes that the City is going is doing plenty to "accommodate private capital" and uses Atlantic Yards as his example. Norman Oder gets to jump into the exchange:

"It's the state," shouted someone from the audience, looking narrowly at the fact that Atlantic Yards is officially a state project, shepherded and approved by the Empire State Development Corporation.

"In collusion," shouted back another audience member (OK, me) in correction, mindful that both the state and city had signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the project, that the city agreed not to press for ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) over parts of the project, and the city has more than doubled its direct subsidy for the project.

"In collusion," seconded Mennel.


Why Bruce Ratner is not like a public library

The New York Times tries to equate a dispute between Ulmer Park Branch Library and its landlord with Bruce Ratner and the Atlantic Yards.

It seems to be a waste of a good intellect, but someone needs to explain to the Times the difference between a billionaire developer and a library.

No Land Grab - One way in which they're both the same: Neither one ever seems to have the Business Plan for Atlantic Yards available for check out.


Posted by steve at 8:42 AM

April 6, 2007

Opposition to Ward Bakery demolition - Protest is the latest salvo in the battle against Atlantic Yards development

By Stephen Witt


It was billed as a protest against Forest City Ratner Companies’ planned demolition of the Ward Bread Bakery Building, but about an equal number of supporters of the Atlantic Yards project showed up.

And the event reportedly drew more media than both sides combined.

“It was amazing,” said Patti Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition (PHAC), which organized the event. “There were two news helicopters overhead and several news vans with large satellite poles.”
Patti Hagan said the protest was called because she has done extensive research on the building, and although it is not a historic landmarked building, it deserves the recognition, she says.

“The building features Greco-Roman arches beautifully scaled and the entire building is covered in white terracotta tiles,” said Hagan.

“It’s beautiful and bright when the sun hits it,” she added and suggested the building would be ideal for adaptive reuse for residential or workspaces.


Posted by lumi at 9:25 AM

April 3, 2007

Demolition Protest



Activists want to save a historic building from demolition. The former Ward Bread Bakery building is in danger of being knocked down to make way for the Atlantic Yards project. News 12's Kate Pezzimente reports from Pacific St. on why some people feel the building should be saved.


Posted by lumi at 8:13 AM

PRESS RELEASE, BrooklynSpeaks: two for the price of one"


Nearly 6,000 New Yorkers have written to Governor Eliot Spitzer calling for major changes to the Atlantic Yards project. The letters were sent from the website or as replies to a mailer sent out to households surrounding the project. Many of the letters included personal notes which will be excerpted on the website over the forthcoming weeks. They will be delivered to the offices of the Empire State Development Corporation tomorrow on Tuesday, April 3.


The sponsors of the campaign are planning “Rally Against Demolition for Parking” on April 15 at 2:00 p.m. It will take place on Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues — the location of one of the proposed parking lots. Supporters and opponents alike are welcome to join the rally and hear music from the Lafayette Inspirational Gospel Choir and from singer Dave Hall.

Posted by lumi at 7:10 AM

April 2, 2007

Brooklyn Speaks: April 15th: Rally Against Demolition for Parking


Whether you support or oppose Atlantic Yards, the immediate reality of the project won't be the promised jobs and housing, but three enormous parking lots. The State is planning to permit Forest City Ratner to demolish two city blocks, including historic buildings like the Ward Bakery, to create “temporary” parking for over 1400 cars that could blight the area for decades.
Please join us in sending a clear message to Eliot Spitzer and Mike Bloomberg that New Yorkers deserve better.

What: Rally against Demolition for Parking
When: April 15 at 2pm
Where: Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt Ave.
Lafayette Inspirational
Dave Hall
Others TBC


Posted by lumi at 8:09 AM

April 1, 2007

Two Quick Items From Atlantic Yards Report

At the Forest City Enterprises web site, sustainability is front and center
Norman Oder finds that, for Forest City, "Sustainability is an integral part of Forest City's core values" means just what it says -- except for Atlantic Yards.

AY a project or a place? The Times still whiffs
Also, the Times still doesn't get that Atlantic Yards is only a marketing brand, not a place.

Posted by steve at 9:49 AM

March 30, 2007

Ratner’s new ‘Ward’

The Brooklyn Paper


Bruce Ratner is about to tear down the most historic building in the footprint of Atlantic Yards, but he’s doing it green!

The building — whose destruction “would constitute a significant adverse [historic] impact” according to even Ratner’s boosters at the Empire State Development Corporation — will not be saved, but it will live on in a very different form: Three-quarters of the rubble will be recycled.

“We are seeking out every possible way to make Atlantic Yards as eco-friendly and environmentally responsible as possible,” Ratner said in the statement.

But Ratner’s green thumb is not just a matter of enviromental stewardship, but also his bottom line: In New York State, builders who meet certain criteria for energy and waste efficiency can claim up to $7.50 per square foot against their state tax bill, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Posted by lumi at 6:49 AM

March 29, 2007

Ward of the State (Development Corporation)

Ward-BDS.jpgBrooklyn Downtown Star

Nik Kovac and Norman Oder report on the beginning of demolition of the Ward Bakery building:

The presence of several sign-wielding protesters organized by the Prospect Heights Action Coalition (PHAC) seemed to cause a show of discretion from the contractors charged with removing the asbestos and other hazardous materials from the 96-year-old bakery turned warehouse before it is taken down piece-by-piece. Upon seeing the signs - which said things like, "Stop the Department of Buildings before they blight again!" - the foreman immediately pulled the chain on a metal gate, hiding from view several trash-filled black plastic bags. He later opened it just long enough to allow a truck from Topline Contracting, Inc. (based in East Williamsburg) to back in.

Most of the protesters are categorically opposed to the overall Atlantic Yards plan, but the issue of the Ward Bakery demolition has focused the debate on issues of timing and sustainability.


Posted by lumi at 7:39 AM

March 27, 2007

PLANYC2030: what might sustainability mean?

Atlantic Yards Report

As we await the results of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC2030 dog-n-pony show community outreach, Norman Oder scrutinizes the goals as stated in the media campaign plan for NYC's future.


The battles over land use, including Atlantic Yards, have clearly pointed to the need for planning by the government and various stakeholders, beyond a process driven by real estate developers.

Now, it seems, the city government has recognized that, and more.
As we await an announcement of implementation details in April, numerous questions have been raised, among them what goals have been downplayed, whose interests are being served, and how much democratic process will be involved.

The ten goals are grouped under the following color-coded rubrics, with further details in the graphics: OPENYC (housing, transit capacity, parks); MAINTAINYC (infrastructure for water, transit, energy); and GREENYC (carbon emissions, clean air, brownfields cleanup, waterway restoration).


Posted by lumi at 6:52 AM

March 26, 2007

More controversy in the Atlantic Yards project

Residents rally against demolition of 'Ward Bakery', located near site of new Nets arena

WABC Eyewitness News
By Ken Rosato

For nearly a century, it stood at 800 Pacific Street in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights neighborhood. The former Ward Bread Bakery building is in the heart of an industrial corridor that was once home to the Daily News printing plant and the Spalding sporting goods factory, a major dairy and an ice cream warehouse.


Today, demolition began to make way for part of the Atlantic Yards project that would include a new basketball arena for the Nets, and at least 16 residential and commercial skyscrapers. Many are opposed to the move however, and held a protest this morning.

Supporters of Forest City Ratner came out to frame the argument as those without jobs vs. those with wa-a-ay too much time on their hands:

"This project means, a lot to us that live in this neighborhood. Ratner is offering training and [an apprenticeship] program that is actually going to be life changing to people from over here," Brooklyn resident Caprice Watson said.

People like Caprice Watson are saying they just want a job and it is important that people realize that those protesting already have jobs and they do not.


NoLandGrab: Those supporters know what they are doing, by deflecting the argument about sustainable development, to "jobs."

In case you haven't administered your daily dose of Atlantic Yards Report, Norman Oder highlighted an interesting point made by Donovan Rypkema about preservation and local employment:

While new construction is half-labor, half materials, historic rehabilitation is 60% to 70% labor and puts more money in the local community. However, he acknowledged, it’s more piecemeal work and generally not unionized and thus not backed by organized labor.

Posted by lumi at 2:31 PM

Ward's Bakery: The Calm Before the Storm



There were more protesters and members of the media than construction workers on site this morning at Ward's Bakery. The Hagan sisters were there with their signs and Norman Oder with his camera. Meanwhile, the only instrument of destruction onsite was this Keyspan backhoe.

Posted by lumi at 1:22 PM

Ward Bakery: Sustainable Development

Brit in Brooklyn; photo, Adrian Kinloch


Early this morning outside Ward Bakery, preparations were underway for the 'recycling' of the structure.


NoLandGrab: Pictured are protesters Barbara Skinner (no relation to Principal Skinner, we think) and Patti Hagan, who spent the weekend passing out flyers to inform the public that Ratner was poised to start demolitions.

Posted by lumi at 1:14 PM


It's worth repeating that the following petition is on line at

Click here to sign if you haven't already. Also send the link to a friend.

To: Mayor Michael Bloomberg

The Ward's Bakery at 800 Pacific Street is a gem of historic industrial architecture. Completed in 1911, it's builder, George Ward, had taken his architects to Europe for inspiration in its design.

The building is graced with rows of Greco-Roman inspired arches, embellished with a delicate band of a classic wave motif, and clothed entirely in gleaming white terra cotta tile.

Ward's Bakery is a magnificent candidate for adaptive reuse and would yield amazing living and/or workspaces. The success of such conversions has been demonstrated again and again in former industrial enclaves, such as SOHO, Tribeca, and the meat-packing district.

Forest City Ratner is poised to demolish this building, even while their proposed project is still being litigated and may never materialize, leaving us with a wasteland of demolition sites.

We urge you intervene immediately and save this irreplaceable historic treasure for the delight of generations to come.

The Undersigned

Posted by lumi at 10:20 AM

Preservation, planning, and Brooklyn at issue at HDC conference

Atlantic Yards Report

Forest City Ratner’s much-criticized plans to demolish the Ward Bread Bakery, the issue of whether demolition can be truly green development, and the Atlantic Yards project in general represent Brooklyn embodiments of several issues raised at the Historic Districts Council (HDC) annual conference on 3/10/07.

Author and urbanist Roberta Brandes Gratz led off an overview panel by citing the enormous changes since the 1970s, when local activists responded to the city’s decline by establishing pocket parks in abandoned lots, community groups harnessed sweat equity and government funds to rehabilitate buildings, and intrepid brownstoners invested in yet-to-be historic districts.

“Anyone who doubts the enormous impact of historic preservation either wasn’t here or wasn’t paying attention,” Gratz declared.

Now, however, commented City Council Member Tony Avella, “The very people who brought the city back are being priced out of their developments.” While that may not be true for owners who’ve seen their property rise, Avella expressed a commonplace: “The system is geared to development.”

Avella and Gratz both bemoaned the seemingly inevitable rezoning of manufacturing districts to residential and the shift to a service economy. “The reason we don’t have planning from the bottom up is it’ll take away power from the people at the top,” Avella said. “We let the real estate industry do the planning.”


Posted by lumi at 9:40 AM

March 23, 2007

It came from the Blogosphere...

Blogosphere38.jpgOnly the Blog Knows Brooklyn, ANGER AT PARK SLOPER'S SHORT SIGHTEDNESS
OTBKB links the letter to The Brooklyn Paper from Sloper Rob Underwood along with this note:

Here's one Park Slopers response to the recent One Way No Way controversy. I was just waiting for charges of NIMBYism (NOT IN MY BACK YARD). Yes, it's true. Most Park Slopers stood on the sidelines for the Atlantic Yards debate.

The Gowanus Lounge, Ratner to Recycle Ward's Bakery!

Just when we thought the Atlantic Yards Well of Irony had run dry, along comes the attempt to spin the impending demolition of the old Ward's Bakery in Prospect Heights that preservationists have been trying to spare from the wrecking ball. The building sits in the Atlantic Yards footprint. Yesterday, Forest City announced that it was going to start demolition on Monday. Its Press Release boasted that "Over 75% of Building to be Recycled as Part of LEED Certification."

Historic Districts Council Newsstand, Historic Ward Bakery Building To Be Demolished For Parking
The HDC's news blog picked up Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's press release about the Ward Bakery building.

gridskipper, Atlantic Yards Art

After missing "Footprints: Portrait of a Brooklyn Neighborhood" at a Prospect Heights gallery, I recently learned that the exhibit traveled to nearby Brooklyn Public Library. Fantastic! Except that a portion of the exhibit got kicked out for drunkenness and public disturbance; it stumbled over to nearby Freddy's Bar and Backroom, a dive bar that hosts an art gallery, bands, game nights, readings, and arts and crafts nights.

brooklyn lens, atlantic yards 1
Cool black-and-white photo of Vanderbilt Yards posted on a new photo blog.

The Knickerblogger, Frank Gehry: Novelty Without Skill

We already have plenty of 'souless' architecture here in Brooklyn, courtesy of Bruce Ratner, who now propooses to replace it with 'senseless' architecture designed by Frank Gehry.
I can skip the Whitney and go to the Frick if I want, but Gehry's obnoxious, garish funhouse architecture can't be avoided, nor disposed of as easily as a painting. But this just reveals what some of us have known all along, the tastemakers have no taste.....or common sense.

Posted by lumi at 12:42 PM

Bruce Ratner Prepares to Destroy Ward Bakery

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn just posted a fascinating description of the Ward Bakery building along with their most recent update on the situation:

In 1911, the Ward Baking Company building at 800 Pacific Street was built as a gleaming white example of a modern industrial facility. The founder, George S. Ward, a captain of industry and soon-to-be baseball magnate, brought a team of architects to Europe for inspiration and they designed this building on the long boat ride home.

In a 1921 Ward Bakery Publication called The Story of our Research Products, company writers bragged about their founder, who had “the courage and the pioneer spirit to erect the first sanitary and scientific bakery in America.” The same publication describes the New York factory as “the snow-white temple of bread-making cleanliness.”

With four acres of area divided between its six floors and basement, this factory employed hundreds of New Yorkers. And with its capacity to turn out 250,000 loaves per day, it fed hundreds of thousands.


Posted by lumi at 11:45 AM

Bulldozers for Ward's Bakery



In a press release yesterday, the visigoths at FCR announced that 800 Pacific Street, aka Ward's Bakery, had less than 100 hours to live. One of the most architecturally significant — and most easily adaptable — buildings in the Atlantic Yards footprint, Ward's Bakery didn't make the cut with LPC (politics, anyone?). Trying to save a little face with the preservationists and environmentalists, FCR announced that it would be recycling 75 percent of the demolished building materials.


Posted by lumi at 11:15 AM

FCR announces plans to demolish Ward Bakery

Brooklyn Speaks posted Forest City Ratner's press release concerning the demolition of the Ward Bakery building along with this statement:

Note that while FCR is claiming their demolition strategy is "sustainable", the greenest buildings are those that are already built, and a truly sustainable strategy would reuse the Ward Bakery and other historic buildings in the footprint. And there is nothing sustainable about demolishing buildings to create enormous parking lots that will generate traffic and blight the surrounding neighborhoods.


Posted by lumi at 10:50 AM

Desktop Day: Ward Bakery, Atlantic Yards

Brit in Brooklyn

It's "Desktop Day" on BIB and Adrian Kinloch is giving away a detail of the Ward Bakery Building.


If you want to understand why preservationists are going gray over the thought of losing this building, check out Kinloch's post showing details of the white-glazed terra cotta facade. Down to the crackling of the glaze, they don't make buildings like this anymore.

Posted by lumi at 10:21 AM

Forest City embraces historic preservation, but not in Brooklyn

Atlantic Yards Report article on possible adaptive reuse of the Ward Bakery building is a must-read. So check out the blurb if you only have a moment, but surf on over to Norman Oder's site (link) when you get a chance.

The first curious thing about yesterday’s announcement that Forest City Ratner would demolish the Ward Bread Bakery (right), a nearly century-old set of interconnected brick and terracotta-clad buildings beloved by preservationists, is: why now?

The towers planned for the block between Pacific and Dean streets and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues wouldn’t be built for seven or eight years at the earliest, and likely much longer. Phase 2 of the Atlantic Yards project, which would deliver all the promised open space, isn’t supposed to start until after 2010, and that block would come last. Moreover, the promised ten-year build-out could take 15 or 20 years.

Norman Oder speculates on the reasons why Forest City Ratner feels compelled to demolish the historic building and explains why this move goes against the grain of Forest City Enterprise's corporate mythology:


The second curious thing is that the developer, and especially its parent company, truly embraces historic preservation as a strategy—just not here. Compare the photo of FCE's River Lofts project in Richmond, VA (right) with the view of Pacific Street east of Carlton Avenue (below), with Ward Bakery in background. The Atlantic Yards project would involve not only the demolition of the yet-unrenovated bakery, but the demolition of two other former industrial buildings already renovated into condos, and another partially renovated for office space--the yellow building in the photo. (Former owner Shaya Boymelgreen once saw the "blighted" Ward Bakery as a potential hotel.)
During the National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Preservation Conference in 2002, FCE was the principal sponsor, and keynote speaker Ronald Ratner, president and CEO of Forest City's Residential Group, made a strong case for incorporating buildings like those on Pacific Street into the company's projects.

"We need to think more about the adaptive re-use opportunities,” Ratner declared. “That's how we can balance historic preservation and economic reality." He cited the importance of looking at the urban fabric: "We cannot focus on a single building. There is a much broader context of neighborhood, district, city and region. No matter how skillfully done, a building must be part of a vibrant urban fabric if it is to maintain its value and provide a return on financial and civic investment.”
Forest City has done adaptive re-use residential projects in Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Providence, and Richmond, for a total of 1673 units at eight properties, and converted “train stations, mills, warehouses and other historic buildings into upscale, mixed-use complexes.” In Times Square, the developer moved the landmark Empire Theatre 168 feet down the street to house the lobby of the new AMC Theatres.

But no worries, Forest City Ratner proposes "archival documentation of the buildings," so if you get to missing the majestic white elephant, there will be a DVD somewhere that will tell its story.


Posted by lumi at 9:00 AM

The Ward Bakery demolition and environmental sustainability

Atlantic Yards Report

Even if you recycle waste from a building, that doesn't mean the process is environmentally sustainable. That was the message two weeks ago from consultant Donovan Rypkema at the Historic Districts Council conference in New York, and it's relevant in light of Forest City Ratner's press release today announcing the demolition of the Ward Bread Bakery, a building hailed by preservationists.

While Forest City Ratner hopes to score points by "recycling" demolition debris from a historic building, here's the real score:

Then he got to the issue of "embodied energy":

So much of the "green building" movement focuses on the annual energy use of a building. But the energy embodied in the construction of a building is 15 to 30 times the annual energy use. Razing historic buildings results in a triple hit on scarce resources. First, we throwing away thousands of dollars of embodied energy. Second, we are replacing it with materials vastly more consumptive of energy. What are most historic houses built from? Brick, plaster, concrete and timber. What are among the least energy consumptive of materials? Brick, plaster, concrete and timber. What are major components of new buildings? Plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum. What are among the most energy consumptive of materials? Plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum. Third, recurring embodied energy savings increase dramatically as a building life stretches over fifty years. You're a fool or a fraud if you say you are an environmentally conscious builder and yet are throwing away historic buildings, and their components.

Finally, he addressed recycling:

Environmentalists cheer when used tires are incorporated into asphalt shingles and recycled newspapers become part of fiberboard. But when we reuse an historic building, we’re recycling the whole thing.


Posted by lumi at 5:56 AM

Ward Bakery Is Toast

The Real Estate Observer

Forest City Ratner sent out a press release on Thursday saying that the former Ward Bread Bakery at Pacific and Vanderbilt streets in Prospect Heights was next in line for the Atlantic Yards treatment, with abatement and demolition scheduled to begin Monday.

Get this, Bruce Ratner is hoping to appease the masses and tastemakers by certifying that over 75% of the Ward Bakery building will be recycled!

But don't cry too hard, because the building, the target of an unsuccessful landmarking attempt, will come back in its next life as an insect or something: Some 75 percent of the demolition debris will be recycled.

Read the press release.

Posted by lumi at 5:51 AM

March 20, 2007

Lobbying Ms. Burden: DCP gives up on WillyB blockage, mall "overbuild"

Atlantic Yards Report explains that Forest City Ratner lobbied the Department of City Planning and considers what the Atlantic Yards developer got in return.

So what did Forest City Ratner get from having Fried Frank lawyer Melanie Meyers, a former general counsel (1994-1998) to the Department of City Planning (DCP), lobby her old agency last year regarding Atlantic Yards? (Fried Frank had the largest single lobbying contract in the state.)

We can't be certain, but documents acquired via a Freedom of Information Law request show that DCP in 2006 backed down from two requests--including a request not to block the Williamsburgh Savings Bank--made by City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden in the previous year.

Moreover, DCP last year participated in a clear charade--a "recommendation" that Forest City Ratner reduce the height of several buildings, even though the developer had put most of the cuts on the table several months early.

For readers who are not aware of the three additional towers being designed by Gehry and built by Ratner over the Atlantic Center Mall, this is a must read.


Posted by lumi at 7:01 AM

Bring Basketbrawl to Brooklyn, or a residential neighborhood near you

A reminder why NY City zoning regulations do not allow for arenas and stadiums in or near residential neighborhoods.

Only, the Atlantic Yards' Nets arena is special, because NY State is overriding all local zoning rules to ensure that residents in Prospect Heights just have to cross the street to get to the latest basketbrawl.

NY1, Twenty-One People Arrested After Garden Basketbrawl
On the bright side, NY1 is reporting that "Officials at Madison Square Garden also said they will consider whether or not to host the event in the future."

Wanna bet that Bruce Ratner and Marty Markowitz have already made the call to bring basketbrawl to Brooklyn?

The NY Times, Gunfire and Fights Erupt in Midtown After School Basketball Game

No worries, if basketbrawl came to Brooklyn, anxious and maurauding crowds would probably spill over into the BAM cultural district or MetroTech, not your back yard:

After the game, hundreds of the teenagers descended on Times Square, where there were a handful of fights, some among the teenagers themselves and others with employees of local establishments. In one fight, a teenage girl pulled a hairpiece off the head of a cashier at a pizza restaurant and ran off with it.

Lucky for Bruce Ratner, Atlantic Yards' publicly accessible open space (fondly called "a park" by the developer) would be closed to the public after 8PM, to insure that project residents wouldn't have to interact with fans.

CBS2 News, Police Arrest 21 In 'March Badness' MSG Brawl
Exclusive footage from the Garden, Times Square and the subway.

Posted by lumi at 6:17 AM

March 19, 2007

Burden: A big city needs big projects

Amanda Burden makes her case for Atlantic Yards, in Crain's NY Business only she makes up the part about a land called "Atlantic Yards" being a "big gaping hole in the heart of Brooklyn" (it's called "Vanderbilt Yards" and is only a third of the project's acreage). She also forgot the part about 6,460 residences, which would make it the densest residential community in the nation.

Amanda Burden, head of the city Planning Department and chair of the City Planning Commission, tackles questions about some of New York's most important development and planning issues in this Q&A excerpted from a recent Crain's New York Business breakfast forum.

Q: Were you surprised by the extent and vociferous nature of the opposition to the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn?

A: As I recall, the Atlantic Yards had deep and wide support throughout the community. There was vociferous opposition, as there always is with big projects. But we're a big city, and we need big projects. Atlantic Yards was a gaping hole in the heart of Brooklyn. Now it will provide a fantastic venue for a sports facility, retail and entertainment, and it is on top of a transit hub, which fits our strategy of sustainable growth.

Q: Amid a surge in development, a debate has been reopened on whose vision of how to develop the city — that of Robert Moses or Jane Jacobs — is the right one. How do you view the debate, and who is the guide for the Bloomberg administration?

A: Of course, both Jane Jacobs and Roberts Moses were right to a certain degree. Robert Moses got things done, and Jane Jacobs argued for diversity and texture.

But a lot of people misinterpret Jane Jacobs because she welcomed diversity. She knew there was going to be serendipitous change in the city, and she understood this was a big city that welcomed that change. But what she encouraged was not only diversity, but that the public and the affected communities participate in the planning process that would make that happen. And in fact, that is what we are doing now.

She also really embraced the idea that if you're planning for communities, you plan from the ground up. That's where Robert Moses began to fatally fail. He looked at the city — I think he even rented planes to fly over it — and saw it as patterns of roads and connectivity.

He failed to look at the importance of the strength of neighborhoods and of building on individual neighborhood strengths. If he had planned that way, his planning would have been much more sustainable, endurable and, in fact, welcomed. The best projects he did were his public open-space projects, like Jones Beach and Orchard Beach. That's where he focused on the fine detail, from the ground up.

Q: Columbia University has been attempting to begin development of a second campus in West Harlem for several years, but there's been very little progress. Is the university's project vital for the city, and is there any hope of a compromise between Columbia and its opponents in the community?

A: Columbia is a major and important institution in this city. It's a major employer; actually, all private universities are very much a critical part of the economy. The expansion of Columbia is very important to the school's future.

At the same time, the Community Board 9 in upper Manhattan has a very clear vision for how they would like to see their community developed. And it's a very different vision than the one Columbia has.

I'm confident there will be an agreement during the city's land-use review process. There's something about the process that focuses the mind and gets two sides together. They haven't gotten together yet, but I'm totally confident they will. And it'll be a total win-win for both Columbia and the community.

Q: Four years ago, the city announced plans to revitalize Coney Island, but little has happened since. What is the status of the plan to rezone the area, and do you favor including residential use in the entertainment zone, as the landlord who owns most the property wants?

A: Our rezoning plans for Coney Island will provide substantial opportunities for residential development, let me reassure you of that.

I don't know if you know that Coney Island used to be the No. 1 tourist destination in the entire world — and the amusements are part of its iconic character, its magic, its worldwide renown and its brand name. Amusements are incompatible with immediately adjacent residential use, so we do not think residential use immediately adjacent to the amusements is appropriate.

Q: As the number of apparel jobs in the city shrinks, the garment district continues to be governed by regulations restricting the amount of space that can be used for offices. Isn't it time to revisit these archaic rules?

A: Within the month, we will be announcing a plan to overhaul those restrictions.

We are the fashion capital of the world, and the fashion industry is a huge, huge component of our economy. But the garment center has perhaps the most anachronistic zoning restrictions in the entire city, and it's a bad place to invest in buildings. It's not a good place to even work, because of the lack of investment.

So what we will be doing is relaxing the zoning requirements and restrictions in the area, and liberalizing the kind of uses that can happen there.

We will not be allowing residential use there because the garment center provides a very important supply of Class B and C office space. We think preserving [that] office space is a very important niche in the city's economy for emerging businesses.

Posted by lumi at 10:52 AM

March 18, 2007



Boston Globe
Christopher Shea

"You wouldn't want a city made up of buildings by Gehry, [Rem] Koolhaas, or [Daniel] Libeskind," Glazer says in an interview, invoking three of today's leading-light architects. "That would be a World's Fair. It wouldn't be a city."
Brooklyn, meanwhile, will not too long from now see something very much like a small city of Gehry buildings: Gehry is the designer of the $4 billion, 20-plus acre Atlantic Yards project, brainchild of the developer Bruce Ratner, that will include a basketball arena for the NBA's Nets and residential towers, 17 structures in all -- including the tallest building in Brooklyn.

Is this not like the old modernist city-shaping? Glazer says no: Atlantic Yards was "not a Gehry-designed project. It was more or less designed by the developer." Gehry adds his signature touches, but most of the program -- the number of housing units, the density -- grew out of a purely commercial calculus. (He also thinks the project is too big, but that's a different issue.)

"I'm talking about people who were thinking about how to create a better city," Glazer says. And from that important conversation, Glazer says, architects have been missing.


Posted by amy at 9:32 AM

March 17, 2007

Brooklyn Bridge Park Expects Tons of Snow & Rats



If an arena to justify luxury towers isn't amusing enough for you, check out the nearby excitement of condos-in-a-park:

The excellent renderings aside, Brooklyn Bridge Park has been under scrutiny lately for what some people say is a budget that's been enlarged to justify condo development. Today's Metro reviews some of the details including a workforce of 53 to 94 people to look after 62 acres. Snow removal (by hand) would take up to 9,198 hours, or enough work to employ 4.4 people full-time and year-round. People that maintain the lawn sprinklers would make $45.07 an hour. And expect the park to have way more rats than the West Village KFC-Taco Bell: rat control will take 8,286 hours & 4 full-time workers. Nice lawn sprinkler gig.


NoLandGrab: And although that's a lovely rendering of skating under the bridge, NoLandGrab learned from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund that salt falling from the bridge would melt the ice, making this scene impossible. Or maybe they extend the lawn sprinkler job into a year round, lawn sprinkler/salt catcher gig.

Posted by amy at 12:33 PM

March 15, 2007

More Moses Reaction: 'Evenhandedness Is Disturbing'

From The Real Estate Observer:

The Wall Street Journal's architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable tackles the three shows now running under the title "Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York." She's old enough to remember battling Moses' plans, and, therefore, finds the show's "comprehensive objectivity" jarring:

"The carefully inclusive narrative tells it all in safely worded labels that neutralize outrage.... [I]ts very evenhandedness is disturbing. It is almost too cool; there was nothing evenhanded about Moses."

Here's the link to the Journal article.

NoLandGrab: Why is the attempt to recast Robert Moses's place in history important to those concerned with Atlantic Yards? Because the conflict over Bruce Ratner's controversial, eminent domain-abusing, superblock-creating, historically dense residential/mixed-use project runs along a parallel track with the Moses discussion.

Is Atlantic Yards and the "almost too cool" revisionist view of Robert Moses a reaction to New York's failure to dream big during the past three decades, as revisionists and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff would have you believe, or is it due to New York's failure to learn from past mistakes?

Posted by lumi at 7:06 AM

March 14, 2007

People Who Can Help Get a Project Built — Or Help Stop One

City Hall


New York’s reputation as a place resistant to many new buildings has done nothing to discourage more people from trying every year, every day. Among the most important decisions which go into translating a project from concept to blueprint to concrete foundation are those made by people charged with mediating between government and private developers. Of the many who do, here are 10 (in no particular order) who City Hall thinks help bridge public demands and private interests when it comes to getting shovels in the ground in New York.

Familiar names to those who are living in the shadow of Atlantic Yards: Sheldon Silver , Eliot Spitzer, Dan Doctoroff, Amanda Burden, Joseph Bruno, and more recently Patrick Foye.

And here's proof that if you repeat a myth it stays as fresh as a Twinkie™ (emphasis added):

[Amanda] Burden has also played an important role... in reducing the scale of the controversial Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn.

[For myth-busting, check out Atlantic Yards Report, where Norman Oder revealed that a document "obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request from the Department of City Planning shows that most of the proposed cuts had been on the table since January, 2006, in an option (20B) presented by the developer and architect Frank Gehry."]


Posted by lumi at 6:58 AM

Robert Moses Lives

An epic three-part exhibition on how the master builder shaped modern-day New York demonstrates the role he still plays in the life of the city.

Metropolis Magazine
By Karrie Jacobs


Unlike our current crop of Trumps and Ratners, Moses built for the public. That was his great virtue. The problem was that Moses built for a theoretical public; the actual public, especially the portion of it that had the misfortune of living in his right of way, was just a nuisance. Sadly, in recent years there’s been a return to Moses’s methods. Eminent domain, a tool he honed, is back in fashion. And lately redevelopment schemes, such as Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards, have emerged from backrooms as faits accomplis, the city’s land-use review process be damned. So Robert Moses and the Modern City seems particularly significant at this moment—or it could be if it became a catalyst for an honest discussion of the man and his methods.


Posted by lumi at 6:56 AM

March 13, 2007

"Abdicating its role": Atlantic Yards and the City


Did the City really “abdicate its role” during the Atlantic Yards approval process, as Speaker Quinn stated last week?


Because of legislation passed in the 1960’s, the state has the power to override the city’s zoning laws and land-use approval process (known as ULURP), which is far more rigorous than the state’s own process, requiring votes by the local community boards, the borough president and ultimately the City Council.

But in practice, the state can only do so when the city permits it.

BrooklynSpeaks politely explains the one action taken by NYC Planning, the "scaleback", calling it an "awkward episode" as opposed to a carefully choreographed tactic.

And for those of you who have been wondering what BrooklynSpeaks Plan C is (Plan A was to convince politicians to delay the vote, Plan B is to work on Eliot Spitzer to tweak the project), here it is in a nutshell:

So there’s still time for the City – and Speaker Quinn - to insist that the project is redesigned with input from local elected officials and other stakeholders, and still time for the City to spearhead the development of a comprehensive transportation plan, instead of the piece-meal, anti-pedestrian approach they have pursued so far.

Most importantly, there’s also still time for the City and the State to improve the governance for the project. For example, they could establish an ESDC subsidiary to oversee the project that includes board members appointed by the city and local elected officials - as numerous other state projects including Queens West and Hudson River Park have.


Posted by lumi at 9:00 AM

By Roberta Brandes Gratz

A noted urban thinker assesses the continuing debate by city leaders and the great builder's biographer over the meanings of Moses. The second in a series of essays on an ambitious three-part museum exhibit.

Gratz begins by summarizing Robert Moses's reputation as a top-down planner, which culminated with Robert Caro's 1,163-page biography, and quickly segues into the impact of Deputy Mayor Dan "I-am-not-Robert-Moses" Doctoroff and a defense of the Koch "nothing-big-got-built-because-of-Jane-Jacobs" era:

Doctoroff went to great lengths to distance himself from the famous Moses recipe for making omelettes by breaking eggs. “I believe we have found a new model for getting things done,” he said. “I don’t believe you have to break eggs.”
Doctoroff’s definitions of "underutilized" and "renaissance" are in conflict with the view of many of the affected stakeholders in those neighborhoods who watch viable areas either become classified erroneously as blighted or, at the opposite extreme, watch residents and businesses pushed or priced out as new projects emerge. (How the Atlantic Yards site can be classified as “blighted” when investors are paying $600,000 for a condominium across the street has not been explained.) These local people are not necessarily averse to change, but they are averse to alien change that transforms their communities rather than strengthening them.

When stakeholders are part of the process designing the change, instead of only reacting to it after “experts” decide on the content, then the final projects have a better chance of reinforcing neighborhoods – not replacing them. Public acceptance is more likely.

This description of what's happening in Prospect Heights is striking, because it crystallizes what community activists have been calling for all along:

Atlantic Yards is moving ahead, indeed, against great public opposition. Sadly, it's a perfect example of a project that could have been a win-win if stakeholders had helped shape it. Its countless flaws could have been minimized and positive potential maximized.


Posted by lumi at 8:13 AM

On tour with PlaNYC

By Amy Zimmer

Yesterday at the Judson Memorial Church, the latest in a series of public meetings regarding PlaNYC — Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to prepare for the city’s future — had members of community, civic and labor groups brainstorming how the city can create affordable housing and improve the environment. With the city population projected to hit 9 million in 2030, they wanted to harness the growth in a way that leads to good jobs and homes.
The group offered suggestions to Rohit Aggarwarla, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. His office has hosted a series of town hall meetings on the plan across the city, including another event last night, to solicit feedback from residents before the city develops a plan.

Michelle de la Uz makes a good point about one of the weaknesses of the Mayor's plan:

“Despite the fact that the administration has an unprecedented plan to build 165,000 units of affordable housing, if current trends continue, we will have less diverse and affordable housing by 2030,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue Committee. “For every unit we build for affordable housing, we’re actually losing a unit, so there’s no net gain.”


NoLandGrab: Members of community groups who have attended these meetings note their suspicious resemblance to other dog-n-pony shows produced by corporations who are claiming to listen to the community. Most are reserving judgment.

In an article from this week's City Limits, Roberta Brandes Gratz observes:

Listening to peoples’ reactions to an already conceived draft plan is not the same as having some of those people at the table participating in drafting that plan. Using the Internet and public meetings to collect reactions to a plan is surely not the same as including the communities themselves in the development of plans for appropriate change in their neighborhoods.

Posted by lumi at 7:56 AM

March 11, 2007

The open space dodge, revisited



Atlantic Yards Report

Last April, I pointed out that the section on Open Space in the new Atlantic web site deceptively claimed that the developer "will transform portions of the exposed rail yards into publicly accessible open space."

While portions of the rail yards would indeed become "publicly accessible open space," the phrasing suggests that the open space would be built only above the unsightly rail yards. Indeed, landscape architect Laurie Olin, in a candid interview with the New York Observer, explained how taking the street was crucial for Forest City Ratner to assemble the quota of open space necessary for the project to pass muster.

Taking the streets

A comparison of Olin's sketch (above) on the Atlantic Yards web site with the schematic of the project footprint created by BrooklynSpeaks (right), shows that open space would be built over the currently functioning Pacific Street, as well as the area between Pacific and Dean streets currently occupied by buildings.


Posted by amy at 12:27 PM

Speaker wants to track complaints

Gary Buiso

Asked about the massive Atlantic Yards project, Quinn said it should have gone through a thorough review. “The city abdicated its role,” she said.

Demolition prep work on the $4 billion project, which includes a new arena for the Nets, has already started.

“I don’t know what options are left now,” she said. “I’m not sure anything is left to be done.”


Norman Oder has a suggestion for what Speaker Quinn can do in today's Atlantic Yards Report post, Goldberger says balance on big projects elusive; Quinn admits AY abdication:

Note that, while Atlantic Yards is a state project, the city has, in other projects involving partly city land, requested that the city's land use review procedure be included. In this case, don't Quinn and fellow City Council members have any say in the $205 million--up from the $100 million promised in a 2005 Memorandum of Understanding--that Mayor Bloomberg wants to commit to the project?

Posted by amy at 12:20 PM

Park Slope’s costly future - Many worry about development


Joe Maniscalco

The loss of neighborhood diversity, the demise of neighborhood mom & pop shops and the impact of Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project are all fears weighing heavily on the minds of Park Slope residents as they see new development going up all around them.

“There’s a price for thinking big and there’s a price for thinking small,” said architect and urban planning professor Stuart Pertz, part of a four-person panel that included architectural historian Francis Morrone, Fifth Avenue Committee Executive Director Michelle de la Uz and Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff.

Faced with the current frenzy to build big, Pertz complained that any suggestion of balanced development is now routinely derided as “mealy-mouthed and an automatic “non-starter.”

“The city and state is so anxious to get it done,” he said. “We create zoning which is not planning. We have EIS, [Environmental Impact Statement], but they don’t provide a vision. If the city chooses to be an advocate for development, someone needs to advocate for the public so it’s a fair fight.”


Posted by amy at 12:13 PM

March 8, 2007

It came from the Blogosphere...

Blogosphere32.jpgArchinet, Atlantic Yards vs. Brooklyn

A new film, Brooklyn Matters, uncovers a deepening vein of displeasure with the project that spans a wide political spectrum, in Manhattan as well as Brooklyn, among community leaders and urban planners.

Brit in Brooklyn, Ward's Bakery: Save It

Check out cool photos of the Ward Bakery building, including details of the white glazed terracotta tiles — then sign the petition.

The Real Estate Observer, Foye to Visit Atlantic Yards Site

Pat Foye, the new downstate chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, is expected to visit the Atlantic Yards site in central Brooklyn on March 22. The tour, made at the request of City Councilwoman Letitia James, comes after a dubious construction start by developer Forest City Ratner that cut off water to some residents who don't even live in the footprint. The ESDC authorized the arena-and-housing project, and is acquiring property for it via eminent domain.

Metroblogs New York, Atlantic Yards Wait for the Fat Lady

The Atlantic Yards project continues to stir up controversy.

There's a new film out, "Brooklyn Matters," detailing lawsuits, inquiries by Spitzer into Pataki's dealings with Ratner (the man who would have brought the Nets right into Brooklyn with this deal - side tangential rant: why the HELL does anyone think we need to build large stadiums in or that near Manhattan?) and growing public resistance to the Atlantic Yards development project.

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, WHY ONE WAY NOW? DOT HAS AN ANSWER (?)

So you're wondering why the DOT wants to change Park Slope traffic patterns NOW? Some people say it has to do with the Atlantic Yards. Even David Yassky says it has something to do with the Atlantic Yards. But here's what the DOT press office had to say.

Don't Worry It's Just Reality: Brooklyn Edition, Today, now you can do more than read- Help Save Ward's Bakery

Dreadnaught explains another reason to sign the Ward Bakery online petition:

As a former resident of Fort Greene, having viewed the demolition of an historic neighborhood under the aegis of ATURA, watched the resultant vacant and blighted landscape for years, only to be further worsened by the "instant slum" shopping mall complex created by Forest City Ratner, the intelligent choice is obvious. Work toward preserving and enhancing the neighborhood and act in a civically responsible manner. Don't put development rights in the hands of demonstrated incompetents.

Brownstoner, Petitioning Bruce to Spare Ward's Bakery

As if we needed another reason to sign the Ward Bakery online petition:

Even if you're one of those people who can't help writing in D-O-N-E-D-E-A-L in the comments of any post about Atlantic Yards, it's hard to argue with the fact that saving this building for "adaptive reuse" (as they call it in the preservation biz) is a no-brainer. It would also be a great p.r. move for Bruce to pretend he has some grasp of what's wonderful about old Brooklyn.

Shakin' Dave, Safehouse Endangered
Read about historic Brooklyn brownstones in danger of being torn down to build a parking garage:

Joy Chatel grazed her fingers across an opening in the masonry of her Brooklyn basement, sealed off long ago. "They would come in here and go through these vaults," she told more than a dozen neighbors one recent Saturday night. She was referring to runaway slaves, who she believes hid in underground chambers connecting the rowhouses along Duffield Street.

The city intends to demolish these houses as part of its redevelopment plan for downtown Brooklyn. Sheraton and aloft Hotels, both units of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, want to build a pair of hotels and a parking garage on the site.

The Park Slope Slanter, NY POST: Ratner is a Good Guy
A Park Slope resident's reaction to Andrea Peyser's second date with Bruce Ratner:

Every Brooklynite but one took a double-take when they read this NY Post headline: “SCORE ONE FOR GOOD GUYS: B'KLYN ARENA FINALLY RISING AMID THE RUIN.” The one who didn’t was the one who wrote it; Cobble Hill resident Andrea Peyser, infamous for her cut-throat-cum-tacky column.

1 Stop Over in Brooklyn, Most Famous Brooklyn Sports Stars

Did you know that Michael Jordan was from Brooklyn? What about Mike Tyson? Brooklyn has a bit of everything and many people come from Brooklyn. It is going to be an exciting time to be a basketball fan in Brooklyn once the Nets officially move to Atlantic Yards.

Yonkers Tribune, State Court Rules Ratner Improperly Obtained Lease
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's press release on Ratner's setback in State court got some air play in Yonkers, where many folks who are are familiar with Ratner backroom deals are still pretty pissed about the Ridge Hill project.

"A Peregrination", A Little More on the Atlantic Yards,

A blogger finds a new way to say, "D-O-N-E D-E-A-L," and takes a couple of jabs at Atlantic Yards bloggers:

The Atlantic Yards, and the development of the Nets Arena, Housing and shopping at Flatbush and Atlantic Aves. in Brooklyn is now moving forward.

The bloggers and readers of No Land Grab, Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and Curbed continue to prattle on with their anti Atlantic Yards, views to no avail.

NoLandGrab: If Ratner would stop prevaricating, subverting the community, and hiding the real value of the Atlantic Yards project in terms of profit and subsidies, then we'd have nothing to write about and could go back to our regularly scheduled lives... (sigh).

Archinet, Gehry and Goldberger

A Yale student gets an invite to a lecture featuring Frank Gehry:

Gehry is so different from our usual guests. He's unassuming, maybe because it doesn't have to pretend to be anything he's not. He's also getting pretty old and he was so tired. He kept telling [Paul] Goldberger to stop the interview!

Posted by lumi at 6:55 AM

March 6, 2007

Jane Jacobs, Atlantic Yards, and "the age of marketing"

Atlantic Yards Report

Yesterday, we tried our hand at a Robert A. M. Stern takedown, today Atlantic Yards Report takes a turn.

Norman Oder starts off by laying the groundwork for Atlantic Yards apologists (i.e. it sucks less than Ratner's past projects):

Still, Atlantic Yards, despite its extreme density and paucity of open space, would represent a significant step up from Forest City Ratner's anti-urban Atlantic Center mall and suburban-style office park development at MetroTech. There would be more retail on the ground floors and a bicycle path and a place to sit outside the Urban Room (at least if it's not too windy.)

Indeed, the Empire State Development Corporation defended Atlantic Yards in comparison to Stuyvesant Town--which I characterized as "building a better superblock."

However, he still concludes:

That doesn't make it Jacobsian, though.

Oder looks to New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger to explain how Jacobs is often used to justify megaprojects, how the public gets left out of discussions concerning land use and the paradox of listening to the public.


Posted by lumi at 10:00 AM

March 5, 2007

Useless space

BV03.jpgBrooklyn Views blogger Jonathan Cohn wastes perfectly good web space on a photo essay on "useless space" (perfectly good link)...

...that is according to Laurie Olin.


"I think space on streets is actually useless space.” — Laurie Olin, NY Observer Interview, 2/26/07

Posted by lumi at 12:32 PM

Learning from Lille

Lille-histoire_citadelle.JPGThe Brooklyn Paper, "The Kitchen Sink"

We ran into out old pal Ellen Wurtzel at the Tea Lounge on Union Street this week. After six years and two kids, she's almost done — really — with her dissertation, "Legal Space and Urban Identity: The Shaping of the City of Lille from 1384-1667." Given her understanding of the shaping of Lille, which has very little of its history left, she opposes Atlantic Yards. "Lille was developed and destroyed!" she said.

Posted by lumi at 11:54 AM


WardBakery-benben.jpg Click here to sign the following petition, hosted by

To: Mayor Michael Bloomberg

The Ward's Bakery at 800 Pacific Street is a gem of historic industrial architecture. Completed in 1911, it's builder, George Ward, had taken his architects to Europe for inspiration in its design.

The building is graced with rows of Greco-Roman inspired arches, embellished with a delicate band of a classic wave motif, and clothed entirely in gleaming white terra cotta tile.

Ward's Bakery is a magnificent candidate for adaptive reuse and would yield amazing living and/or workspaces. The success of such conversions has been demonstrated again and again in former industrial enclaves, such as SOHO, Tribeca, and the meat-packing district.

Forest City Ratner is poised to demolish this building, even while their proposed project is still being litigated and may never materialize, leaving us with a wasteland of demolition sites.

We urge you intervene immediately and save this irreplaceable historic treasure for the delight of generations to come.

The Undersigned

For more info on the Ward Bakery, check out:, Why historic buildings in the AY footprint should be reused, not demolished
Brooklyn Views, Photo
Atlantic Yards Report, FCR announces demolitions; Ward Bakery not yet on list
flickr, photos by "threecee", brick in light and shadow, stack on top, and triplicates
flickr, photo from "benben"

Posted by lumi at 11:20 AM

Breaking Ground

Gotham Gazette

New York City is in the midst of a construction boom, say city officials and representatives from the building industry. The city is issuing residential building permits at near record numbers and a recent wave of mega projects, such as Atlantic Yards (see related story), approved by city, state and federal agencies marks the city's most ambitious economic development agenda in decades.


Related story, Atlantic Yards: A “Done Deal?”, by Tom Angotti

The article lists all of the reasons that New Yorkers think Atlantic Yards is regarded as "just a harmless piece of Manhattan-like development" and is probably "a done deal" and then embarks on a more fact-based review of where the project really stands:

But a new film, Brooklyn Matters, uncovers a deepening vein of displeasure with the project that spans a wide political spectrum, in Manhattan as well as Brooklyn, among community leaders and urban planners. In addition to the “resignation and bitter apathy” referred to by Brooklyn resident Jennifer Egan in her recent New York Times op-ed essay, there seems to be a warehouse of active resistance and also a minefield of new obstacles. Three new lawsuits against the project will tie the project up for a while. The Spitzer administration is looking closely at this and a host of other Pataki deals that left mushrooming public costs. Critics are attempting to expose the affordable housing package as something of a front for what they say is really a massive luxury project. And now community groups are working on expanding their own plan for the area that sets aside Ratner’s vision.


Posted by lumi at 10:43 AM

Stern and the City

Architect and historian, Robert A. M. Stern completes his epic, five volume survey of the Big Apple

By Paul Makovsky

Bigger than the Manhattan Yellow Pages and weighing in at just under 11 pounds, New York 2000 (Monacelli Press) is the fifth and final volume of Robert A. M. Stern’s award-winning series on the city’s architecture, urbanism, and interiors from the Civil War to the millennium... Recently Metropolis editorial director Paul Makovsky spoke with Stern about the book, how the city has changed over the past 30 years, and the legacies of Post-Modernism, Donald Trump, and eighties nightclubs.

In the interview, Stern either refers to some other Jane Jacobs or the silly rabbit gets his information from The New York Times.

An interesting example is the struggle to find the appropriate scale, and the appropriate adjustments between the local community and the larger needs of the city, at Atlantic Yards with Frank Gehry. It’s a highly controversial project, but in many ways the scheme is quite Jane Jacobs-like in its urban pattern. There are concerns about the scale and about public investment, but that represents a new, probably healthy development for the city.


NoLandGrab "Overkills" Robert A. M. Stern

There are several misguided assumptions in Stern's proclamation.

1. Struggle to find an appropriate scale?

Any preceived "struggle to find an appropriate scale" with Atlantic Yards is a Ratner contrivance dutifully reported by The Times. In less than three years, the developer announced the project, later increased the size, and subsequently decreased the size (giving credit to NY City Planning) to nearly the original scale, in a carefully choreographed dance with the press and public perception of the project.

The NY Times ran the big news on page one without reference to the fact that the project had been previously increased, and was again close to its original size, and "The Paper of Record" never followed up to report that the shavedown was planned as early as January, 2006, when the developer presented the option to the City Planning Commission.

2. The scheme is quite Jane Jacobs-like in its urban pattern??

To say "the scheme is quite Jane Jacobs-like in its urban pattern" defies credulity (seriously, are we talking about THE Jane Jacobs?), and makes one wonder if Stern has looked at the project plans on his own. Then again, he probably has no idea that Atlantic Yards would be the densest residential community in the nation, since The Times still hasn't reported that fact.

Also, Jacobs would certainly have criticized:
* the use of eminent domain for a private project of this nature (Jacobs submitted an amicus brief for the US Supreme Court case of Kelo v. New London), * demapping of city streets in favor of superblocks, * the lack of meaningful community input and review, and * the garden-city mentality, which in the case of Atlantic Yards, proposes much less open space than any garden-city acolyte could have ever imagined (a scant 8 acres for 15,000 inhabitants).

We also think that Jacobs would have had serious concerns about casting aside city zoning to build an arena right next to existing residential housing, and would have probably expected local residents to speak out against such a scheme.

3. Scale and public investment, healthy development for the city???

Stern concluded, "There are concerns about the scale and about public investment, but that represents a new, probably healthy development for the city." If the scale/density and public investment of Atlantic Yards were to be attempted in Manhattan or by any developer other than the incredibly politically connected Bruce Ratner, we doubt that the project would be considered seriously. A private project of this scale has NEVER EVER been approved and constructed in New York City, much less Brooklyn.

Robert A. M. Stern can believe what he wants, but that doesn't make it so. Meanwhile, he fails to take into account the historic aspects of this project. The fact that most of the extreme characteristics of Atlantic Yards have not been reported in most of the mainstream press, and have not become part of the general public discourse about the project, isn't really an excuse when you are one of the most respected scholars of NYC architecture. If professionals fail to appreciate what is not being said, then Bruce Ratner has won another round.

Posted by lumi at 7:42 AM

March 4, 2007

Would Robert Moses hate Atlantic Yards? Yes, but... maybe not

Atlantic Yards Report

Francis Morrone, an architectural historian and commentator for the New York Sun, has been thinking about the legacy of master builder/power broker Robert Moses, subject of the three exhibitions and book, and several of Morrone's columns.

And the immersion has led Morrone, who lives in Park Slope and is on the advisory board of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, to another conclusion: Moses would hate Atlantic Yards, even though it has been touted by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff as kinder, gentler version a Moses-style megadevelopment. (Indeed, many fewer people and business would be displaced.)

Morrone told me he'd flesh out his thoughts further, but summarized what he thought would be Moses's objections:
--he disliked flashy architecture (and starchitect Frank Gehry's work embodies flash)
--he disavowed corporate branding (as with the Barclays Center)
--he avoided gaudy signage (as planned at the Urban Room and arena)
--he would've looked askance at small amount of open space (the ratio for the population would actually go down)
--he would've been appalled at the lack of coordinated traffic planning (and even project booster Marty Markowitz has come up short).


Posted by amy at 10:08 AM

February 27, 2007

NY Times to blame for what "Brownstoners" don't know about Atlantic Yards?

Commentary, from "Anonymice" on Brownstoner, regarding Jennifer Egan's Op-Ed in the Saturday Times, made us realize that Egan's piece was the very first mention in The NY Times that Atlantic Yards, if built, would be the densest residential community in the nation.

Two commenters posting on Brownstoner found that hard to believe; one even accused Egan of "creating 'facts' out of whole cloth."

This incredulity made us realize that unless these readers were receiving the DDDB newsletter, or were regular readers of NoLandGrab or Atlantic Yards Report, they had no clue. How could they? The New York Times never told them.

Here's how several voices in the public conversation on Atlantic Yards uncovered this amazing fact in the Summer of '06.

The questions about density arose when Forest City Ratner (FCR) VP Jim Stuckey was trying to make folks understand that Atlantic Yards wasn't all that big. In a May 15, 2006 interview with Brian Lehrer of WNYC, Stuckey claimed that the FAR (floor area ratio) of Atlantic Yards was around 8, and was close to that of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan.

Stuckey's claims just didn't sound right to Jonathan Cohn from Brooklyn Views, who had been studying the plan and posting commentary from the point of view of an experienced architect. Cohn did a little analysis and calculated what he termed "real FAR" (as opposed to "FCR FAR?") and came up with an estimate more like 9 (see, "How Big Is It Now?"). Cohn also extended an offer to the BPCsquish.jpgdeveloper to provide more accurate figures in order to nail down the actual figure — he's still waiting by the phone.

This revelation, and a quick lesson in the myriad of ways in which planners measure density, sent Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report sniffing around, comparing Atlantic Yards to other large-scale housing projects in New York City. Oder didn't find any developments in NYC that had nearly the population density of the Atlantic Yards plan (see, "Extreme density: Atlantic Yards plan would dwarf Battery Park City, other projects"). To the Brownstoner/NY Times readers, that includes Battery Park City. Imagine, BPC with, like, twice as many buildings sandwiched into the open space.

Then former City Planning Commissioner and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn Advisory Board member Ron Shiffman pointed out Atlantic Yards's dirty little secret, "If Forest City Ratner’s proposal proceeds at the current scale, it would constitute the densest residential community in the United States and, perhaps, Europe, with the exception of some of the suburbs of Paris."

Oder's article and Ron Shiffman's pronouncement got New York Observer reporter Matthew Schuerman wondering if that could be true. Schuerman checked out the latest census data ("Prisoner of Atlantic Avenue") and found that the densest census tract in the nation is a single two-block project in West Harlem that has "229,713 inhabitants per square mile." Atlantic Yards, according to the figures released by the developer at the time, clocked in "between 436,363 and 523,636 inhabitants per square mile (based on estimated population of between 15,000 and 18,000 residents over 22 acres)."

Densest.jpgAtlantic Yards has been shaved down since then, but the fact remains that it would handily eclipse the residential density of any place in the nation.

Why is residential density important? Because residential areas place a heavier load on city services. Those same city services that the Atlantic Yards Evironmental Impact Statement has amazingly concluded would not be significantly impacted by the project.

So thank you Jim Stuckey, Jonathan Cohn, Norman Oder, Ron Shiffman and Matthew Schuerman for putting your heads together and helping Brooklynites who read blogs written by what Senator Schumer calls "self-appointed people" to understand that Atlantic Yards is an experiment in urban density of historical proportions.

Oh, and thanks to Brownstoner readers for illustrating what happens to inquiring minds when the "Paper of Record" gets its info from developer press releases. We can only apologize for The NY Times for not keeping their readers in the loop, especially those who live in Central Brooklyn.

Posted by lumi at 10:00 AM

The Surface Parking Lots: Does "temporary" mean 20 years?

BrooklynSpeaks asks an important question.

Laurie Olin also suggested in his interview with the NY Observer that the project would probaly take as long as 20 years to complete, if it even is completed:

“It’s a great project, if it all happens,” he said. “The time calendar we are talking about is probably 20 years. People say 10 to 15, but take a look. How long does it take the market to absorb that much stuff?”

Does this mean that the 3 "temporary" surface parking lots (not to mention the uncovered railyards themselves) will also last that long? The largest of the temporary surface parking lots would be the entire block bounded by Pacific Street, Vanderbilt Avenue, Carlton Avenue and Dean Street


Posted by lumi at 8:50 AM

February 24, 2007

A Developing Story


New York Times OpEd
Jennifer Egan

THE developer Bruce Ratner broke ground this week on his Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, despite an eminent domain suit over property he must raze to build a basketball arena for the Nets. This “preparatory work” is Mr. Ratner’s latest maneuver in a maddeningly effective campaign to make his instant city — a 22-acre swarm of 16 residential skyscrapers (and a 20,500-seat arena) that would create the densest population swath in the United States — look and feel like a foregone conclusion.
By allying himself with groups run largely by African-Americans, [Ratner] was able to cast himself — a wealthy man who stands to make $1 billion on the Atlantic Yards development — as the champion of working-class Brooklynites who favor jobs and housing in a battle against affluent, spoil-sport newcomers who have the luxury of fretting over their quality of life. This was a powerful strategy: the question of whether the Atlantic Yards project was good for Brooklyn dissolved into the uneasy question of whose Brooklyn you were talking about.

What was mostly lost in this caustic debate was the biggest question of all: what do we Brooklynites — a diverse and even divided collective — want our borough to be? Do we want it transformed from a sunny, low-lying place into knots of vertical superblocks? Are we content to let our borough’s future be imposed on us by developers and politicians?


Posted by amy at 10:14 AM

'57 Dodgers Vs. '07 Nets

By Delia Hunley-Adossa
Chairperson of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement Executive Committee

Where to even begin? Delia touts the health, wealth and racial harmony soon coming to Brooklyn courtesy of Ratner:

In 2007, with the historic Atlantic Yards Community Benefit Agreement (CBA), the first-ever legally binding one in the state, all of these themes are being addressed in so many ways, that I believe it will be instrumental in creating an even bigger resurgence in Brooklyn.

Legally binding?

Minimizing the racial divide is a key component of the Atlantic Yards CBA agreement because for the first time people of color are at the table.

Minimizing the racial divide??

Socially, Atlantic Yards is about creating a healthier community. From the proposed Children Zones and other youth programs, my Community Partners and I strongly believe that these social programs - and others that provide business opportunities, jobs, affordable housing and community amenities for residents of Brooklyn - will create a happier, healthier, safer Brooklyn for all of us to enjoy for years to come.

Healthier community???


Posted by amy at 9:17 AM

February 23, 2007

“I think space on streets is actually useless space”

BrooklynStreet.gifBrooklyn Views reviews Atlantic Yards landscape designer Laurie Olin's interview in The NY Observer and declares that "the cat's out of the bag:"

So the designers have finally come clean and admitted that the plan is not about making a great space, and not about what’s best for the city. As the project team looked for opportunities to increase the ratio of open space to built space in order to make the project seem smaller that it really is, it found a tricky strategy: rather than decrease the built space, the site can be “expanded” by taking the area of the streets. By demapping the streets and counting them as open space, the project’s ratio of open to built space looks better - as a number. According to the designer whose name is on the plans, the taking of streets really is about making the numbers look good. Never mind that the space will no longer be public space, and - according to the EIS – the space will now not even be accessible to the public for good parts of the day. (Presumably the details of how to keep people out of this so-called “publicly accessible space” / gated community - a high fence? a private security detail? - will be released at some point.)


Posted by lumi at 9:31 AM

Will Atlantic Yards Preclude the One Seat Ride to JFK?

airtrainsite.jpgUpon consideration that Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards plan might render the possibility of a direct rail link from Lower Manhattan to JFK impossible because of reconfiguration of the railyard, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn ponders the comparison of the economic benefits between the two:

What about a cost-benefit analysis? Former Governor Pataki issued a statement in May 2004 claiming that "the rail link will result in an increased economic output of $6 to 8 billion annually, generated in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and as much as $9 to $12 billion in the region as a whole.”

Even a fraction of that return (oh, we of little faith in touted public bonanzas) would render the steadily shrinking promised benefit from the "Atlantic Yards," um, how do we say... chump change.


Posted by lumi at 8:05 AM

February 22, 2007

Landscape Architect Olin: streets are "useless"


In a startlingly candid interview with the New York Observer (click here to read it), AY landscape architect Laurie Olin defends his superblock design for the project by declaring that space on streets is "actually useless space".

Olin was explaining why his design demaps Pacific Street: to maximize the amount of open space, and to keep cars out of the project area. Olin dismissed criticism that his design would create a superblock as "1960's language" and a "cliche".

BrooklynSpeaks explains how decades of evidence contradict the pronouncement of the esteemed landscape designer (no matter how badly he wants to believe that he's right), and outlines the differences between public streets and private parks.


NoLandGrab: Lost in the revision of the debate of Robert Moses vs. Jane Jacobs is one of Jacobs' primary, and perhaps most important, points.

During the early decades of the 20th Century, urban planners developed new planning principles that sounded good on paper, principles they believed would work because they said so. Jane Jacobs contended that this view was arrogant. Her groundbreaking premise was that the effects of organizing cities could and ought to be measured, and not merely surrendered to the latest trends proposed by urban planners. The planners at the time were schooled in principles that had a track record of being built, but not of accomplishing the goal of creating a more livable city.

In Laurie Olin's interview, he not only casually casts aside the more familiar Jacobsian notion that vibrant street life is essential for the urban environment to succeed, but ignores the more important message, that the effects of poor planning can be scientifically measured and that when data can demonstrate that an experiment is a failure, the mistake ought not be repeated.

This is not dogma; it's only proposition that we apply our best tool for understanding the universe, the scientific method, to the art and science of urban planning.

Posted by lumi at 8:04 AM

February 17, 2007

Democracy deficit: Gargano stonewalls the Voice; ESDC embraces transparency

Atlantic Yards Report:

Meanwhile, the ESDC has somehow acknowledged that it is responsive to the public rather than some kind of clubhouse. As Matthew Schuerman reports in the Real Estate Observer:
The Empire State Development Corporation used to send out meeting notices to the press that read:
"Meetings are open to the public for observation, but not for direct participation."

Earlier this week, the state economic development agency sent out one for Thursday morning's board meeting--the first under Gov. Sptizer's co-chairmen Patrick Foye and Dan Gundersen--that read:
"The meeting is open to the public for observation and comment."

Imagine if that policy had been in place during the 12/8/06 meeting of the ESDC board, which showed itself generally uninformed about Atlantic Yards, approved the project in just 15 minutes. Surely the public would have offered considerable observation and comment.
This, remember, is the agency under challenge in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case. While a lawyer for the ESDC said in court earlier this month that the authority was legislatively empowered to pursue condemnations, that doesn't necessarily prove that this eminent domain finding was reached after an open legislative process.


Posted by amy at 10:34 AM

Designing the Future of West Harlem and Red Hook



Those negotiating the CBA on behalf of West Harlem at first were representatives from nearby public housing projects, local business organizations and commercial property owners. Now seven pols, who had been overlooked to avoid any conflicts of interest, are on the board negotiating the CBA. Supposedly conflicts of interest related to their official roles were resolved, but, as one local stakeholder asks, isn’t Columbia one of their constituents? Two of those seven elected officials even have a vote on the land-use application.

Columbia isn’t the first developer to turn to CBAs. Forest City Ratner also signed a CBA with 8 local nonprofits including ACORN, which supported the project. At least four of the CBA signatories received money from Ratner, but it hasn’t been determined which ones and how much. Indeed, the Yards CBA has been criticized for being an example of democracy-for-hire.


Posted by amy at 9:54 AM

February 15, 2007

Spin City Roundup

Atlantic Yards Report

Nothing gets to Norman Oder like public officials and community leaders who are into spin:

Spin city #1: Burden calls AY “a gaping hole in the heart of Brooklyn”

AmandaBurden-NYC.gifCity Planning Commission Chairperson Amanda Burden, speaking yesterday before a development-friendly audience at a Crain’s New York Business breakfast, declared that “Atlantic Yards was a gaping hole in the heart of Brooklyn,” a statement either deceptive or naïve.

The "hole" is a working railyard, the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard, while Atlantic Yards is the name of a 22-acre project. In casual discussion and press accounts, the two are often conflated, but a public official like Burden should know better, right?

I caught up with Burden (right) after her presentation and said, “You’re calling the project, the whole thing, a gaping hole.”

“The yards are a gaping hole,” she responded, unwilling to acknowledge that she had bought into the developer’s branding.

Spin city #2: Lewis says AY would be "totally luxury" without ACORN

Norman Oder analyzes and fact checks Bertha Lewis's interview yesterday on WBAI.

BerthaLewis-NH.jpgLewis's version of events seems to contradict the record:

Lewis continued:

And when Atlantic Yards came up, we stepped in and we said, “Whoa, wait a minute, if this tide is going to wash over us, we’ve got to be able to affect it.” There was no plan to do anything affordable in that project, whatsoever.

While it's possible that when the developer began conceiving of Atlantic Yards there was no plan for affordable housing, affordable housing was a component of the project plan when first unveiled on 12/10/03.

The developer and ACORN did not sign the affordable housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for 17 months, until 5/17/05.

Spin city #3: Doctoroff says AY had "enormous level of community input"

DanDoctoroff-MSNBCsm.jpgIn this week's New York Observer, in a Q&A headlined Modern-Day Robert Moses, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff first seems to acknowledge that the Atlantic Yards project received too little community input, then reverses himself, claiming--against strong evidence--"an enormous level of community input."

Posted by lumi at 8:20 AM

February 13, 2007

Even More Moses

RobertMoses-CU.jpgMore articles on the exhibits and panel discussions reconsidering the legacy of Robert Moses:

Toronto Globe and Mail, Moses vs. Jacobs plays again

Last Thursday night, the Museum of the City of New York held a symposium titled The Lessons of Robert Moses. Most of the panelists, including Dan Doctoroff, the city's deputy mayor of economic development and rebuilding, seem to be taking the wrong lesson from the current re-evaluation of Moses. They have learned that arrogance was Moses's real sin. So their modus operandi is to appear to care about communities and then go ahead with big development plans anyway.

Doctoroff, who failed in his bid to build a stadium on the west side of Manhattan and also failed to secure the 2012 Olympics for the city, is overseeing the largest building boom in the city since Moses's era. “We definitely do not believe you need to break eggs,” he said.

That would be news to the hundreds of families and businesses in Brooklyn who will be evicted under the government's powers of land expropriation to make way for the gargantuan Frank Gehry-designed Atlantic Yards project, which will attempt to deposit a massive high-density downtown-style development (including a basketball arena and a 50-storey apartment tower) in a low-rise area of Brooklyn., ROBERT MOSES RECONSIDERED: MOSTLY RIGHT THE FIRST TIME

So yes, this exhibition is revisionist in that it puts a more positive face on Moses than the Caro opus. Understandably, given Ballon’s expertise, the focus is on the physical results of more than 40 years of power and it does not try to probe the source of the power that allowed him to ride roughshod over anyone standing in his way. And, indeed, the physical achievements, whether judged good or bad, are undeniably mighty in breadth, scale and obstacles overcome.

But the danger in a revisionist view of history is that it takes on a life of its own. That life often then becomes myth, like the incorrect belief about Mussolini that “at least he got the trains to run on time.” Clearly, no one is all good or all bad, and Caro’s book, despite what is often said, does have positive things to say about Moses. Of Robert Moses one must ask if the damage he wrought outweighs the good.

Posted by lumi at 8:42 AM

February 12, 2007

More Moses

AP via APP, Exhibits revisit Moses' NYC transformation

Moses-AP01.jpgNearly all the projects master builder Robert Moses championed between the 1930s and 1960s as head of the New York City's Parks Department and a public transit authority are still here. Moses brought Lincoln Center, Jones Beach and Riverside Park to New York, but also drew scorn for displacing thriving neighborhoods to create roads such as the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

Three connected exhibits opening this week revisit Moses' legacy, and its planners say the late urban planner should ultimately be remembered for building far more than he destroyed. ...
"Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York" opens in the middle of a building boom the city hasn't seen since Moses, who died in 1981. The World Trade Center site, Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and planned stadiums and subway lines are among the projects changing the landscape in every corner of the city.

Atlantic Yards Report, Author Caro: remember Moses's effect on people

PowerBroker.gifThough he ostensibly had a few weeks to prepare a rebuttal to the book and exhibition, Robert Moses and the Modern City, Robert Caro, author of the scathing and seemingly definitive biography, The Power Broker (1974), chose not to fully counterattack yesterday.

Rather, in a lecture sponsored by the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY)--an event added only after he was excluded from the panel discussion ushering in the exhibits--Caro hewed mainly to what seemed to be his standard Moses presentation: the story of how he came to write the book (his increasing recognition of the unelected Moses's grip on power), his admiration for the young Moses's idealism (the creation of Jones Beach as a destination for urbanites), and the failure of his later vision (the displacement of at least 500,000 people for the creation of highways and housing).

Posted by lumi at 9:08 AM

It came from the Blogosphere...

computerart.jpgNets Fan in New York, Potty Humor

Everyone's a critic. NY's #1 Nets fan trashes Donald O'Finn's crapper:

As Oscar Wilde once said:

"Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself."

Miss Brooklyn portrayed as a toilet? How original. What does this say about the artist?

A Good 'Hood, Gehry Is So Very....

I'm not saying that the development needed a traditional "brownstone" look to link the neighborhoods on either side of the development, but a design that was both progressive, yet also respectful to the current neighborhoods would go a long way to creating a good hood, one that adds to the existing areas, while also giving it it's own identitiy. As the design stands now, this will be a 1970s superblock, completely isolated from the surrounding environments, not just because the footprint of the development isn't more welcoming, but because it will stand out...and not in a good way.

Don't Worry It's Just Reality: Brooklyn Edition, About the Barclay's Crap

"Dreadnaught" sounds off on the backlash to Bruce's Barclays deal:

This little corner of the AY opposition is pretty un-PC, and I kinda sorta agree with Errol Louis that the past is the past, and everyone's had their hand in it, including plenty of Africans- where even today the peculiar institution isn't so peculiar.

But I will say this - the fact that Ratner would ignore the sensibilities, feelings and thoughts of black leaders after he was done using them is a perfect example why Forest City and Bruce Ratner in particular should not be trusted, why the fake CBA isn't worth the paper its printed on, and Brooklynites should be taking steps to not only halt Forest City's expansion in Brooklyn, but preferably, have them leave. It's also