Monday, September 11, 2006

Another AY error from the Times; mayor sanguine about subway crowding

In an article in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, headlined The Bloomberg Vista, Jonathan Mahler describes the mayor's development plans:
[Deputy Mayor Dan]Doctoroff set about identifying underused areas that could be repurposed. Here, the city’s outdated zoning codes played to his advantage. Because New York’s last comprehensive rezoning took place in 1961, when there were nearly one million more manufacturing jobs in the city, there were large tracts of idle land across the five boroughs. If necessary, Doctoroff figured, the city could employ its powers of eminent domain to condemn private property before turning it over to developers. “You have huge swaths of the city that are no longer relevant to its economy,” he told me, “old piers on the waterfront, elevated freight lines, military bases like Governors Island, warehousing districts, rail yards.” The approach mirrored Doctoroff’s strategy for NYC 2012, which envisioned transforming neglected pockets of the city into sporting venues.
The Olympic plan is dead, but signs of the Bloomberg administration’s development strategy will soon spring to life around the city. “We are literally dragging New York into the 21st century,” Doctoroff says. A two-mile stretch of dormant Brooklyn property along the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront was recently rezoned for housing and parkland; a decommissioned Navy port on Staten Island will be turned into apartment complexes, restaurants and a recreational sports facility; the crumbling Bronx Terminal Market will be demolished and reconstructed as a retail mall; the Atlantic railroad yards in Brooklyn may someday soon house the New Jersey Nets, as well as mixed-income apartments and 600,000 square feet of new office space. These are just a few of the dozens of development projects currently on the boards. All are contingent on the continuing strength of the city’s economy. Most are years away from completion; some, like the Atlantic yards plan, face strong community resistance. But the mayor’s office has already rezoned the equivalent of nearly 4,300 blocks throughout the five boroughs for commercial and residential use.

(Emphasis added)

Let's note that rezoning is accomplished by the mayor's office working in tandem with the City Council, so it's more democratic than autocratic. Let's remember that the Atlantic Yards plan would not proceed via a rezoning; it would be a state override of city zoning.

Most importantly, the railroad yards could never house the Nets, the apartments, and office space because they're too small. For the umpteenth time, a reporter has assumed that Atlantic Yards and the railyards are coterminous, even as the latter would be a little more than a third of the AY project.

Mayor shrugs off infrastructure

The article notes:
Nevertheless, the mayor’s ambitions can hardly be concealed, and his critics on the right would prefer that he leave development to the free market. “We have such pie-in-the-sky ideas from Bloomberg,” says Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, an influential conservative research group. “Meanwhile, the infrastructure that the city should be focusing on, like the subways, is being ignored. That’s the real barrier our natural growth is going to bump up against.” (For his part, Bloomberg told me: “I take the subway. My attitude is go earlier if the train’s crowded.”)

Would that be his advice to Brooklynites faced with train and platform crowding if the Atlantic Yards project proceeds as planned?

Bohemia meets AY?

In a Times Magazine essay yesterday titled Where It’s At, under the rubric of The Way We Live Now, James Traub writes about the shifting state of bohemia:
[John] Reed’s latter-day descendants are threatened not by penury but by gentrification. How can Bohemia contend with the twin baby stroller? The other day, walking around Fort Greene, one of Brooklyn’s current claimants to downtown cultural status, I stopped at an office building called 80 Arts. In the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts, or MoCADA, which occupies the ground floor, an exhibition of major black artists had just come down. I picked up some fliers from the counter. One, issued by a company called Downtown Babies, advertised “Creative Play and Music Classes” and “Themed Birthday Parties” to be held at MoCADA. Downtown Babies — the end of Bohemia as we know it.
80 Arts had been gutted and renovated as part of a “cultural district” established by a “local development corporation” organized around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the cultural mega-institution of Fort Greene. Here was a planned Bohemia — surely a contradiction in terms. Indeed, many locals, and local organizations, had protested the development (as they are now even more loudly protesting the Atlantic Yards, a nearby mega-project featuring skyscrapers and a basketball stadium to be designed by Frank Gehry). But MoCADA owes its presence in Fort Greene to the cultural district; should the project be fully implemented, a new theater and public library will be built as well.


The two are hardly comparable--the Atlantic Yards project, with its basketball arena, would have much greater effects on surrounding neighborhoods. Still, it is interesting that Bruce Ratner has long been a power on the board of the Brooklyn Academy of Music; surely an improvement in the neighborhood would bolster the Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls Forest City Ratner operates nearby. Indeed, the latter is slated for redevelopment.

The inevitability of AY?

Traub's article closes:
And so the Bohemias of yesteryear have gone the way of Reed’s Spanish longshoremen. But is that so bad? Take a walk in Fort Greene, an ethnically and economically mixed neighborhood with tree-lined blocks of fine brick homes. A block away from 80 Arts, beyond the town house that the painter David Salle has lavishly rehabilitated, lies the lime-green Habana Outpost, an eco-friendly cafe where mothers push downtown babies on swings amid racks of folkloric skirts, priced to sell. And then, moving up Fulton Street, once a commercial swamp, there’s the wine store and the soul-food restaurant and the beloved Cake Man Raven. A few blocks away stands the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which has been irreproachably avant-garde since long before there was any money in it. Fort Greene feels less like Bohemia than what the scholar Joel Kotkin calls an “elite urban enclave” — a place suited to the sophisticated tastes of the “knowledge workers” who now propel New York’s economy.
But the wheel of development that brought in those young cosmopolites, and priced out a number of the area’s longtime, predominantly black residents, has not stopped turning: the Atlantic Yards project threatens to disrupt Fort Greene’s delicate ecology once again. We want to preserve our precious and beloved utopias like paperweight worlds; but the city — at least this city — will not permit it.


Actually, the soul-food restaurant and Cake Man Raven appeal to a somewhat different crowd than the wine store, and rely in part on long-established black residents who aren't leaving, because they bought a while back or they live in rent-regulated housing.

As for the final paragraph, Traub seems to be suggestion that the Atlantic Yards project is inevitable, the price of progress that will sacrific "our precious and beloved utopias" like Fort Greene. Except that Fort Greene has gentrified only the past few decades, following the 1978 designation as a historic district. Some 30 years ago Fort Greene was significantly rundown.

If the city will not preserve "paperweight worlds," shouldn't the change at least proceed through a publicly accountable process?

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