Friday, December 22, 2006

The Errol Louis wrap-up: an all-star collection of misreadings

Let's take a close look at Daily News columnist Errol Louis's column today, headlined A groundbreaking coalition, with the subtitle "When it comes to adding jobs & housing, majority rules with a winning plan." It's an all-star collection of misreadings.

He writes:
The most interesting and least-reported story behind the final state approval of the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project this week is the emergence in Brooklyn of a pro-development coalition of private-sector builders and black working-class residents who are leading a tenacious fight to bring jobs and housing to the borough.
Standing in the path of progress are middle-class civic groups whose mostly white leaders profess concern for low-income New Yorkers - and even claim to speak for them - but shed the illusion of liberal compassion the minute the poor folk get uppity and start negotiating their own deals for the future of their families and communities.


Um, which private-sector builders are anti-development? And haven't civic groups like BrooklynSpeaks actually endorsed more rather than less affordable housing in the Atlantic Yards plan?

And what about the hundreds of millions of dollars--billions?--in subsidies and bonds that will support the housing, figures that government agencies won't reveal?

CB 8's sentiment

After touching on the Fairway and Ikea debates in Red Hook, Louis returns to Atlantic Yards:
News accounts of the three-year, hard-fought battle for approval have ignored the reality that the project was always favored by a solid majority of residents in Community Board 8, where the project will rise.

[Updated] Actually, the project site is divided between Community Boards 2 , 6, and 8, though CB 8 would have a much larger segment. (The project would be at the far west end of CB 8. See Map from Department of City Planning.)

While the opinions among residents of CB 8 vary, members of the community board who studied the project closely delivered a stack of concerns to the Empire State Development Corporation. And remember how all three CBs said that Forest City had overstated their participation in the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)?

Trusting Forest City

Louis writes:
This year, when I asked the project's sponsor, Forest City, for the names of the community groups backing the project, I was sent a list of more than 200 block associations and other organizations. These are mostly the kinds of groups that don't have the money to create fancy Web sites, daily blogs or press conferences to push their views, but their support for the project has been rock-solid.


As noted in August 2005 in the New York Observer's blog The Real Estate:
...the coalition claimed that "more than 200 organizations have affirmed" the agreement since its signing in June--”meaning they supported the idea even if they were not involved in negotiating the agreement or will be a part of enforcing it. The Real Estate asked for the list and counted fewer than 175; and that's only if "organizations" include elected officials, restaurants and real-estate agencies, as well as block associations and the like. But we were nonetheless surprised it had traveled so far, so fast. Why, there are groups from as far away as Queens and Manhattan on this list! (Are they part of the "community" in downtown Brooklyn?)


Does Louis know how much it costs to create a daily blog? (Answer: free.)

[Update 12/27/06: A reader points out that the cost of a computer and Internet are costs to maintain a blog. I was thinking first of the software, which can be free. It would be more difficult, though still possible, to maintain a blog via free access at various libraries.]

About those polls

Louis writes:
Every reasonably objective indicator of neighborhood sentiment demonstrated local approval. Opinion polls sponsored by the New York Observer and Crain's showed local residents favoring the project, and candidates for local offices who ran on a platform of halting or slowing the project this year went down in flames at the polls.

I dissected the Observer's poll, and the Crain's one. As for the political races, Louis is typically sloppy here, choosing to ignore the victory of incumbent state Senator Velmanette Montgomery. I pointed out that while the election results certainly weren't an anti-Atlantic Yards referendum, it would be hard to call them a win for Atlantic Yards.

"Complacent reporters"

Louis writes:
But complacent reporters often ignore these clear signs of support in favor of endlessly quoting a handful of self-appointed individuals and civic groups who have claimed, falsely, to speak for all of Brooklyn.

As for complacent reporters, Louis is missing the whole rest of the story, as New York Magazine's Chris Smith wrote yesterday. Louis apparently can't take a look at his own paper, cheerleading not only on the editorial page but on the front page.

Note that the cover proclaims a $4.2 billion project, though the total was reduced to $4 billion, and the caption suggests that the arena represents the whole project.

Louis continues:
A coalition called Brooklyn Speaks, for example, assembled and led by the Manhattan-based Municipal Art Society, has proclaimed on its Web site that the three-year debate over Atlantic Yards that led to this week's approval "reflected a process that simply did not allow New Yorkers to shape the project, and the result is a plan that will not work for Brooklyn."
Like many other homeowners and longtime residents of the area, I find that attitude insulting. Kent Barwick, the head of the Municipal Art Society, really ought to spend more time connecting with people in my neighborhood - where residents are grappling with a rising tide of arson, homicide and homelessness - before firing off memos from Madison Ave. about what will or won't work for Brooklyn.
All over Brooklyn, communities are making new alliances in a life-and-death battle to rescue their children and neighborhoods from homelessness, street violence and despair. Civic groups and others who refuse to recognize the new reality are missing an important and inspiring change in how New York does business.


Does Louis actually think New Yorkers were able to shape the project? How exactly do concerns about arson and homicide connect with this development?

While Louis apparently thinks that development of this site will help solve some neighborhood problems--and yes, it might bring employment to some--it's also likely that development pressures in Crown Heights and Prospect Heights, thought to be linked to arson, will accelerate once the Atlantic Yards plan proceeds.

BrooklynSpeaks criticized the project's design (does Louis think the proposed publicly accessible open space will work?), the lack of an effective transportation plan (is Louis pro-gridlock?), and the affordability of the subsidized apartments.

(Fun fact: according to a search of the Daily News archive, Louis's column is the first time Barwick has been mentioned regarding the Atlantic Yards plan. The most frequent Atlantic Yards commentator in the Daily News, of course, has been.... Errol Louis.)

Getting paid

As for some of the community groups that have most vociferously endorsed the plan, Louis omits the most salient fact: they've been paid. They avoid scrutiny. And even the city realizes that the Atlantic Yards CBA is not a model, since it's sponsoring a much more inclusionary effort in West Harlem.

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