Skip to main content

New visuals of AY density; when does it become congestion?

Last month, when I wrote about the very high density of the Atlantic Yards plan, with several of the 16 towers over 400 feet (and one 620 feet), I included Jon Keegan's Google Earth rendering of the proposed building heights in neighborhood context. Now OnNYTurf ("Political and Community Coverage of NYC's 5 Boroughs") has devised a Google map with new portrayals of the footprint. (This is a view from Bergen Street and Carlton Avenue in Prospect Heights.)

The Gehry plan in the Times

This example, along with Keegan's, marks an important citizen effort to provide context that the press has so far failed to provide. Remember, we've had the latest set of plans from Frank Gehry since 7/5/05, but the renderings, as published in the New York Times that day, are just a decontextualized splash of skyscrapers.

Note that the Brooklyn Papers on 2/18/06 did follow up on Keegan's map and Jonathan Cohn's analysis of the project's scale. Also note criticism of Keegan's post that inclusion of other planned buildings would add some increased scale nearby on Fourth Avenue and in Downtown Brooklyn. (Pictured: the Williamsburg bank tower, and the Bank of New York, both north of Atlantic Avenue near the western border of the Atlantic Yards footprint.)

Density downtown?

Forest City Ratner VP Jim Stuckey, in a panel discussion 11/22/05 for the American Institute of Architects NY Chapter, defended the density: "Many have tried to talk about the scale and the density of this project, the density of this project is really not all that different than what recently went through the public approval process." As I pointed out, Forest City Ratner likes to conflate the Prospect Heights site of the Atlantic Yards footprint with the rezoning in Downtown Brooklyn, but the neighborhoods are not the same.

As noted by the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development in its March 2005 preliminary planning analysis of Atlantic Yards, Slam Dunk or Airball, "When the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] for the Downtown Brooklyn Plan was completed, it was expected that the new construction for that area would be substantially taller and more modern than what exists. The same is true – and in a substantially greater discontinuity with the majority of surrounding buildings – for the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards area."

Stuckey made a reasonable point, that density should be near a transit hub: "In fact, I think that the scale of this project needs to be what it needs to be... The city has an incredible housing shortage, a tremendous housing shortage, by all estimates, 65-70,000 housing units, at all income levels...If you can’t put density in at major mass transportation, where would you put it?"

Density vs. congestion

But how dense is too dense? There must be a limit. Urbanist Roberta Brandes Gratz, in her book The Living City, writes (p. 25): "Planners, for example, once declared density bad and the thinning out of cities good. Now density is in and thinness out, although a distinction between density and congestion is seldom made. Density comes when many people are in the same place doing things that gain strength from their interaction; congestion results when there are so many of them that interaction becomes difficult, access in and out unpleasant, and frustration high."

(This is a view looking south from Fulton and South Oxford Streets in Fort Greene.)

A crazy quilt of density

Along with the current zoning that has been bypassed--and would dictate much less density--there are some cues for appropriate density for the Atlantic Yards site. Across Atlantic Avenue, for example, the density is a crazy quilt: a 31-story public housing tower, five subsidized co-ops that are 12 to 15 stories, a seven-story building for seniors, and numerous subsidized rowhouses in the Atlantic Commons development. The latter were built in the 1990s; the taller buildings were built in the 1970s. The last building planned for empty land across Atlantic Avenue, to be built by the Fifth Avenue Committee, will be ten stories. The community-developed UNITY plan for the railyards proposed buildings eight to 12 stories. The proposed Extell plan was for buildings four to 28 stories.

The density of the Atlantic Yards plan is driven, at least in part, by the developer's need to build enough market-rate housing to ensure desired profits as well as affordable housing to maintain political and community support. Gratz, speaking at a conference Saturday sponsored by the Historic Districts Council, observed. “I’m a little tired of hearing the preservation movement blamed for gentrification. We’ve seen a lot of housing development at suburban density.”

[Addendum: Gratz, in her book Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown, criticizes the Nehemiah project in East New York for "destroy[ing] the remnants of an authentic urban neighborhood where resources remain to build on... In place of his traditional urban neighborhood, 650 units of only single-family homes with carports were built, a horizontal housing project for homeowners. A low-density suburban housing project on a high-density urban infrastructure, a short walk froim a subway. No traditional neighborhood shopping streets were left within walking distance."]

Now, she said generally of the city's current predicament, “we are paying a severe price” for having built on vacant land at low density. Does that mean that Atlantic Commons was an inefficient way to provide affordable housing? There are likely much less dense developments in the city [see Nehemiah, above], but her point does resonate. (Note that City Council Member Letitia James, among others, has proposed an expansion of Atlantic Commons on the Atlantic Yards site.) The UNITY plan proposed taller buildings, and the Fifth Avenue Committee's building (right) will be similarly mid-sized. But a decade ago, when Atlantic Commons opened, it "replaced rat-infested lots," as New York Magazine explained. The fact of development apparently trumped any density debate.


Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…