Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pleasantville vs. Brooklyn, and other DEIS hearing footnotes

To a great extent, the news coverage of the hearing Wednesday on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) focused on the speakers--both elected officials and citizens--who made it to the podium during the early phases of the seven-hour epic.

That means those who spoke late, or never even had their names called, didn't get the ink. For example, other than in the New York Observer's blog The Real Estate and my blog, the critical yet convoluted comments of the influential Regional Plan Association got no coverage.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn attorney Jeff Baker got no coverage outside of my blog, even though his contention--that a privately-owned arena does not meet the definition of a "civic project"--likely will be part of a major lawsuit. And, as I noted, Community Consulting Services and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (TSTC) offered important criticisms about traffic. They were almost completely ignored, though the Courier-Life chain mentioned TSTC.

And reporters who didn't stay until the end didn't capture a potential metaphor: though project proponents for hours had outnumbered opponents, many of the former left earlier to return home, so by the last hour or so, the opponents--most of whom live closer to the hearing (and project) site--dominated the room.

Pleasantville vs. Brooklyn

One lingering rhetorical image involves Pleasantville, a name so white-bread (or irony-laden) that it was the title of a 1998 film set in the world of the 1950s. As the New York Times reported in its story Thursday, headlined Raucous Meeting on Atlantic Yards Plan Hints at Hardening Stances:
Umar Jordan, 51, a black resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, said he had come to “speak for the underprivileged, the brothers who just got out of prison,” and he drew loud cheers when he mocked opponents who had moved to Brooklyn only recently. Mr. Jordan suggested that they “just go back up to Pleasantville.”

The Brooklyn Papers, in a lead story headlined Atlantic Yards hearing pits pro vs. con in historic battle for Brooklyn, fleshed it out:
A man from upstate Pleasantville spoke of traffic, the lack of greenspace and how historic restaurant Gage & Tollner was forced to close a few years back because Ratner “failed to live up to the promises he made at Metrotech.”
He was followed by Umar Jordan, who ridiculed his complaints.
“If you never been in the Marcy projects, you’re not from Brooklyn,” he said. “Go back to Pleasantville.”


The Pleasantville resident, Tal Barzilai, has commented on other redevelopment projects, such as in Lower Manhattan. He emailed me to point out that his town isn't considered upstate; indeed, it's a village in Westchester. Despite Jordan's rhetoric, other than Barzilai nearly all the opponents were residents of Brooklyn, many of them longstanding residents.

The reference to Pleasantville made for good theater, but the comments of Barzilai and Jordan were no more representative than the comments of many others who spoke later or whose names were not called. But they were representative of people who had enough time and fortitude to arrive early in the morning for a hearing that started at 4:30 pm.

When the Final Environmental Impact Statement is issued, it will incorporate acknowledgement of and, in some cases, responses to all the comments made, spoken and written.

4 comments:

  1. You wrote:

    "A man from upstate Pleasantville spoke of traffic, the lack of greenspace and how historic restaurant Gage & Tollner was forced to close a few years back because Ratner “failed to live up to the promises he made at Metrotech.”"

    Come on. My family had a long history of eating at Gage & Tollner's. My father-in-law was a doctor at Brooklyn Hospital and for that reason we went to G&T's from time to time.

    As restaurants go, it was a museum 20 years ago. It was an interesting and enjoyable venue but changing tastes brought about its demise, not Bruce Ratner. It never generated the buzz of Peter Luger's and the crowd shopping the Fulton Mall area lost interest in an old-time steak house.

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  2. I was quoting the Brooklyn Papers.

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  3. norman, you wrote:

    "I was quoting the Brooklyn Papers."

    I know. But you chose a quote that attempted to impugn Ratner. Instead, it only succeeded in making the speaker look like a dunce.

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  4. If I'd thought it was an important criticism of Ratner, I would've included it in my wrapup on Thursday. I was explaining why the name Pleasantville came up.

    There's no doubt that changing tastes (and probably management decisions) were part of G&T's demise. But you did send me to the clip file. Newsday reported 7/12/93:
    "THE 114-YEAR-OLD Gage & Tollner restaurant's experience shows the high hopes merchants on Brooklyn's Fulton Street had when the MetroTech office complex was completed two years ago - and how some of them have been frustrated.

    Chase Manhattan relocated 6,000 workers to offices in MetroTech. The list of the complex' other tenants reads like a "Who's Who" of big New York employers, including Bear Stearns & Co. and Brooklyn Union Gas. But the thousands of new office workers didn't immediately translate into the same number of new shoppers or diners. In fact, the economic recession and the inability to attract MetroTech workers led Gage & Tollner's owners to file for bankruptcy protection in March."

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