Sunday, September 24, 2006

Crain's editor offers weak defense of poll

In his column this week, headlined An Objective View of Atlantic Yards, Crain's New York Business editor Greg David offers a weak defense of the deceptive poll the weekly sponsored last month. He writes:
Many have complained that the questions could have been worded to bring about a different result. That would be true if either Atlantic Yards opponents or Forest City had a chance to influence the poll. Opponents of Atlantic Yards are trying to shoot the messenger because the message is unpalatable.

The "objective" housing question

As I pointed out, the question about affordable housing was worded thusly:
The project will provide 2,250 low-, moderate-, and middle-income rental apartments. Is this a very important benefit, an important benefit, not an important benefit or no benefit at all?

Despite David's statement that Forest City did not formally influence the poll, the phrase "the project will provide" echoes the developer's syntax. The Atlantic Yards web site claims that "Atlantic Yards will also address..." and "The Atlantic Yards development will help..."

Such language suggests that the project itself is the actor, even though the housing would be provided by a developer backed by significant public subsidies.

Alternate questions

Consider some alternative ways to ask that question:
The project would include 2,250 low-, moderate-, and middle-income rental apartments, with an average rent of $1542.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but more than half would be too expensive for people at Brooklyn's median income.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but the inclusion of those apartments means the development would be significantly out of scale with its neighbors.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but most wouldn't be built until after 2010, and could be delayed by the market.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but we haven't been told the full amount of the subsidies used to support them.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but most wouldn't be built until after 2010, unlike city rezonings which require affordable housing to be built along with the rest of project.


And what about the pollster?

David also offers two perhaps contradictory sentences regarding pollster Charney Research:
Mr. Charney, a professional pollster whose firm had emphasized political work, wanted to raise his company's profile within the business community and thought a joint project with Crain's might help... His company had no ties to developer Forest City Ratner or its opponents and no vested interest in the outcome, except to embellish its reputation for objective polling.

So one way of raising the profile might be to produce a poll that businesses would appreciate.

I'm willing to believe that Charney did not slant the questions deliberately to favor the outcome achieved. It could have simply been ignorance. But ignorance is no excuse.

David has already written one wrongheaded column about the Atlantic Yards project. He's allowed his opinions, but they'd be more convincing if he didn't miss the facts.

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