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Showing posts from May, 2006

E&P on the Times: loan obligation to Forest City Ratner demands more disclosure

In the June issue of Editor & Publisher, the monthly trade journal of the newspaper industry, "Ethics Corner" columnist Allan Wolper takes a look at the New York Times's dicey relationship with Forest City Ratner. The headline: 'NY Times' Coverage Hits Close To Home, with the subhead: Reporters challenged to objectively cover dealings of a real estate company directly involved with New York Times Co.

In barely 800 words, the column must skip over a lot of ground, and doesn't attempt to assess the Times's overall performance. (A longer version should be posted on the E&P web site, but not for at least a week.) Though I take issue with several shadings in the story and point out areas for closer analysis, the column makes two important points:

though the Times Company has guaranteed a loan to Forest City Ratner, the newspaper doesn't disclose that loan in articles about the developer, and it shouldrival dailies had been stymied in getting Forest…

What CBA? Gaps in Errol Louis's column about AY supporters

In a column today headlined A neighborhood welcome, Daily News columnist (and Atlantic Yards booster) Errol Louis counters news of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's new advisory board with mini-profiles of five Brooklynites who favor the Atlantic Yards plan.

He's welcome to do that. Opinion is hardly monolithic. But two of the five people Louis profiled have ties to the Atlantic Yards project Louis didn't see fit to mention. He describes Freddie Hamilton as "a community leader from Clinton Hill" who's concerned about gun violence. He describes Delia Hunley-Adossa as "president of the 88th Precinct Community Council," an activist who works with the cops in fighting drug dealers.

How about the CBA?

Well, they're also signatories to the controversial Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which Forest City Ratner signed with only eight groups (as opposed to the pioneering CBAs in Los Angeles, which involved 20 to 30 groups). Other sig…

The superblock that dares not speak its name

It's a word that Forest City Ratner and architect Frank Gehry dare not speak: superblock. Nobody loves a superblock. The discredited feature of 1960s mega-designs, according to the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus, "designates very large, usually residential, city blocks often formed by consolidating several smaller blocks and often barred to through traffic and crossed by pedestrian walks." (Overlay site plan from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.)

And that's what would happen in the eastern section of the proposed Atlantic Yards project: Pacific Street would be demapped. (See graphic below.) That allows Forest City Ratner, already facing the challenge of much too little open space for the expected population, to gain some three acres of the proposed seven acres for privately-run parks. The superblock also would allow the developer to claim a lesser Floor Area Ratio (FAR) than a project that didn't absorb the street. Note that Pacific Street and Fifth Ave…

Forest City Ratner's new ad campaign, riding the Daily News editorial

In terms of gush, the 5/14/06 Daily News editorial in support of the Atlantic Yards project has become the reigning champ, surpassing the effort of former New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp in 12/11/03 essay. The critic wrote that "A Garden of Eden grows in Brooklyn;" the Daily News called it, in strained mall-speak, A super design for a great project.

I've already dissected the editorial, but I just had a chance to read it again, since Forest City Ratner has not only reproduced the editorial in one of its Atlantic Yards E-Newsletters (right), it has done so in ads in this week's Brooklyn Downtown Star and Courier-Life chain. (Has the developer given up on the more critical Brooklyn Papers? Note the Papers' comments near the end of the slideshow.)

Additional flaws are evident on a second reading, especially given the discussion of the project in the last two weeks. Why no mention of the interim surface parking that would last for years on the land …

New York Magazine offers a scaleback plan to reduce "shocking size"

New York Magazine, in a feature headlined Building the (New) New York: The Bob and Jane way, takes a look at the city in 2016, and pronounces the projected result a mix of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. A segment on the Atlantic Yards project is odd; on the one hand, it assumes that the project would be completed on time as currently scheduled (despite past delays and likely litigation) and would be located in Downtown Brooklyn; on the other, it muses about a scaleback plan (uncredited) that could be far more dramatic than than anything proposed so far.

The intro to the article offers a caveat about starchitects:
One can’t help but get a little giddy with all the big names, but there is a dark side to hiring all these out-of-towners. Too often they serve as ambassadors to the upper-middle class for owners with an agenda, cloaking the same old towers in a park.

While the author doesn't spell it out, that could well be a description of the Atlantic Yards project: an owner with an agenda…

Does Gehry have a stake in the Atlantic Yards development?

In the Spring 2006 issue of the Urban Design Review, published by the Forum for Urban Design, journalist and critic Alex Marshall offers a toughminded review of Deyan Sudjic's The Edifice Complex, then interviews the London-based Sudjic about, among other things, Frank Gehry. And Sudjic raises an issue that might help explain Gehry's commitment to the Atlantic Yards project.

AM: As you say, “There can never have been a moment when quite so much high-visibility architecture has been designed by so few people.” Does this alter the relationship between architects and the powerful? Who has more power: Frank Gehry, or the beleaguered City Council of an aspiring Bilbao?

DS: I understand that Gehry now has the power to name his price. He’s now using his position—and the sense that his signature can transform the prospects of a commercial development—to actually take points in the development, which is fascinating.

Now Sudjic was not talking directly about the Atlantic Yards project, the…

An architecture critic (from Newark) looks at the bigger picture

So, in the third review of the new architectural plan for the Atlantic Yards project, after reviews in the Sun and Newsday (hey, where's the Times?), a critic finally looks at the bigger picture, not just the social forces behind the building battle but also whether it's worth it all. In an essay today under the cliched (and 16-towers avoiding) headline An arena grows in Brooklyn, Star-Ledger art/architecture critic Dan Bischoff notably opines that the community "givebacks... seem relatively paltry compared to the scale of the overall project."

Also, he acknowledges skepticism "about whether anything even remotely approaching these models will be built," given architect Frank Gehry's age and the typical fits and starts in an architectural project.

No, Bischoff doesn't try to assess the appropriate scale. He doesn't mention Forest City Ratner's sketchy architectural track record in Brooklyn. And he errs in describing the site as "just on…

Hakeem Jeffries: a tougher stand on Atlantic Yards?

Hakeem Jeffries, a candidate for the seat being vacated by Roger Green in the 57th Assembly District, placed a half-page ad in this week's Brooklyn Downtown Star, an "open letter in an attempt to continue the dialogue" about the Atlantic Yards project. Maybe he's been listening to constituents, maybe he needs to nudge closer to rival Bill Batson's anti-Atlantic Yards stance, or maybe he's just reframing his previous sentiments. (Click on the ad for a closer view.)

Affordable housing

Jeffries looks at Atlantic Yards in the same way Forest City Ratner officials have begun to frame it, mainly as a housing program, not--as originally billed--"Jobs, Housing, and Hoops." He wrote:
There is a housing crisis that is suffocating our neighborhoods. Without a signficant infusion of affordable housing, working families, the middle class and senior citizens will continue to be pushed out of Central Brooklyn. The Atlantic Yards project does have the potential to hel…

Extreme density: Atlantic Yards plan would dwarf Battery Park City, other projects

How big should the Atlantic Yards project be (or, for that matter, any project over the railyards)? If you compare AY to other major developments around the city, it would include more than twice as many apartments per acre than at Stuyvesant Town and Battery Park City, and thus a much more dense population--one that would surpass the turn-of-the-century Lower East Side.

As of now, the 16 towers and arena would encompass 8.66 million square feet, according to the Final Scope. This represents about a 5 percent scaleback from the version described last year, but still about a 6 percent increase from the plan that was announced in December 2003.

The proposal by Assemblyman Jim Brennan to shrink the project by 3 million square feet represents the most serious effort by elected officials to assess the appropriate scale. (Note that Borough President Marty Markowitz has long said the project should shrink, but has been unwilling to comment on whether the recent scaleback was sufficient.)

Lookin…

On "Brian Lehrer Live": a summary

I'll provide a summary but not a transcript of my appearance last night on Brian Lehrer Live; however, it will be rebroadcast on Channel 75 on Saturday, 10 a.m. and Sunday, 11 p.m. (time approximate following movie), and an archived videostream is available. Both Forest City Ratner and Borough President Marty Markowitz were invited to send representatives and declined, in part for logistical reasons, said Lehrer.

The topic was Forest City Ratner's deceptive brochure, and then the subsequent release of Frank Gehry's new renderings of the project. Lehrer introduced me as a "leading opponent" of the plan. I corrected him to say I consider myself a critic and analyst, since "the criticism that I come to is really grounded in facts." I'm not a member of any of the opposition groups, and while my skeptical take is far closer to that of the project opponents than project supporters, they don't speak for me. While my platform makes me a "blogger,&qu…

The ATURA mystery: why doesn't it overlap with AY footprint?

As I've written, part of the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint sits within the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA), and part does not. (ATURA is in red, the footprint is in blue, and the overlap is both.) But if the southern blocks of the footprint, between Pacific and Dean streets, were important for the city's redevelopment plans, why did the city never add them to ATURA? The failure to do so, said Allison Lirish Dean, a Hunter College graduate student in urban planning, suggests "striking asymmetries" between city redevelopment/land use policies and Forest City Ratner's project.

Dean and fellow students in the Hunter College master's degree program, under the leadership of Tom Angotti, are analyzing the Atlantic Yards plan on behalf of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB). DDDB will use the analysis in comments and challenges to the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) environmental review process. The student team presented a pre…

I'll be on Brian Lehrer Live show tonight

Tonight I will on Brian Lehrer Live: Front Page, his live, hour-long weekly television program on CUNY TV. Time: 7:30 pm. Topic: Atlantic Yards. Will there be another guest, from Forest City Ratner? Unclear, but when I find out I'll update this.

The program will be repeated (Thursday morning, 2 a.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.; Sunday, 11 p.m.) and also available on streaming video.

HPD head mildly criticizes 421-a subsidies, defends "targeted eminent domain"

On the Real Deal Weekly Interview podcast this week, the real estate magazine talks to Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the nation's largest municipal developer of affordable housing. My transcript is below, but first, a few comments.

Mild criticism of subsidies

Perhaps it was because he was talking to a magazine catering to the real estate industry, but Donovan offered rather mild criticism of the 421-a tax incentive program, which provides a 10- to-15-year exemption from real estate taxes and only requires affordable housing with projects built in the "exclusion zone," mainly Manhattan between 14th Street and 96th Street.

In recent months, the 421-a program has been blasted in a report by ACORN, which blames the program for the plethora of market-rate development in Downtown Brooklyn and environs. In another report, the Pratt Center for Community Development and Habitat For Humanity-NYC charged that …