DEMOLITION began this week to clear ground for New York's biggest urban redevelopment project in decades, Atlantic Yards. That marked not just a crucial defeat for New York's militant anti-developers - the dreaded "NIMBY" (not in my backyard) lobby - but also the emergence of a possible blueprint for future victories.
Didn't we dispose of the Times's "modern blueprint" formulation a while back?
Charney's misleading analysis starts in the very first paragraph. First, demolition actually began in February; Charney's referring to demolitions challenged in court and last week permitted to proceed.
Second, the opponents are not NIMBYs--why would they be organizing the UNITY 2007 charette this weekend?--but critics of this specific plan, which would be more dense than the nation's densest census tract and is so radioactive that the city won't cite it as a blueprint in the just-released PlaNYC 2030 document.
Charney, in the second paragraph, makes another error, saying Atlantic Yards would have 8.7 million square feet of space (actually 8 million) and cost $4.2 billion (actually $4 billion.) He says that developer Forest City Ratner "did have to scale the project down modestly to get the go-ahead," but that, of course, is untrue: the size of the project, in square footage, would be just about the same as announced.
Charney comes to a conclusion vastly different than New York Magazine's Chris Smith, who wrote last August: What at first seemed to me impressive on a clinical level—a developer’s savvy use of state-of-the-art political tactics—ends up being, on closer inspection, truly chilling.
Charney writes: But Atlantic Yards and its developer, Bruce Ratner, have still showed how to promote big redevelopment projects in 21st century American cities.
He suggests reasons behind the Crain's poll he produced, which showed general support for Atlantic Yards:
Most people don't worry much about development issues outside their own neighborhood. Only one in five New Yorkers followed news about the project closely.
Anti-development arguments also don't resonate much with New Yorkers these days. Claims that the project was out of scale and promoted gentrification raised serious doubt for only three in 10; the costs of more schools and sewers did so for just one in three. Ratner's decision to avoid the city's land-use review process by building on state land raised the most doubts, but even this worried just 40 percent.
Isn't the answer in his second sentence? Those who knew more about it were more likely to be critical. The Times, for example, has never published a rendering of the project in neighborhood scale.
Charney claims that the "key factor was Forest City Ratner's willingness to listen - and make concessions," leading to "an innovative 'community-benefits agreement.'" He cites Chris Smith calling it "terrific and creative commitments," including the affordable housing pledge. (Let's say Smith's analysis remains debatable.) Those "concessions" were in process at the beginning, not any response to the critics who emerged.
Remember the way the poll was worded:
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?
The phrase "the project will provide" echoes the developer's syntax. 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.
As I wrote, consider some alternative ways to frame 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.
More than six months after the poll, we still don't know the extent of the subsidies or whether they could be better deployed elsewhere. And Charney hasn't noticed landscape architect Laurie Olin's prediction that the project could take 20 years to build, not ten, which would delay the production of affordable housing significantly. Wouldn't that change a poll?
Charney concludes that Columbia University, in dealing with the Local Development Corporation set up to negotiate a CBA in West Harlem, "will need to show the same flexibility... that Ratner showed in Brooklyn."
The LDC, of course, is vastly different from the CBA "coalition" in Brooklyn. The New York Observer in February reported criticism from an opponent of Columbia University's development plan:
“Ratner and the city got together with one big, national not-for-profit and a set of local sycophants and put something together which doesn’t seem to have satisfied too many people, except for those who are benefiting directly from it,” Mr. [Jordi] Reyes-Montblanc, the chairman of Community Board 9, said.
Crain's editor Greg David wrote last September, explaining the genesis of the poll: Charney, a professional pollster whose firm had emphasized political work, wanted to raise his company's profile within the business community.
Consider today's op-ed another effort at marketing.