Skip to main content

Livable neighborhoods, community planning, and community media 2.0

The Planning Center of the Municipal Art Society (MAS) has launched the Livable Neighborhoods Program: Resources and Training for Community-Based Planners, which aims to train community board members and other community planners to better serve their neighborhoods.

In other words, whether the city cedes land use review to the state or not, citizens could use some more training.

A set of seminars was held May 5 and will repeat this Saturday, May 19. The program is open to the public, but priority will be given to members of community boards and grassroots organizations. (Sign up here.)

(Beyond this program, MAS's Campaign for Community-Based Planning aims to ensure that community-based planning becomes official New York City policy.)

Community district = city?

As Eve Baron, director of the MAS Planning Center, points out, the average New York City community district is the size of Connecticut cities like Bridgeport, New Haven, or Waterbury, all of which have “hundreds of employees and multi-million dollar budgets to provide services.” By contrast, the city’s community boards, with budgets of $200,000, can’t fulfill the demands placed on them.

Participants at the seminar get a planning “toolkit” with chapters on planning topics like community organizing and visioning, data collection, zoning, 197-a planning, “brownfield” planning, historic and cultural resources preservation, electronic mapping and the budget process.

The training component, using the toolkit as a textbook, is hosted by the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development (CCPD). I found the sessions I attended May 5 useful in some ways, basic in others, but, then again, I’ve been immersed in certain land use issues for a while.

Zoning issues

The toolkit has some valuable information, such as an explanation of variances, mapmaking help via the Community Information Technology Initiative, a bibliography for census and demographic resources, and New Yorkers for Parks' guide to neighborhood advocacy. A description of the Rheingold Brewery Development in Brooklyn, which emerged from a charrette involving a host of interested parties, is an interesting contrast to the Atlantic Yards plan, announced as a virtual fait accompli.

Still, the single most valuable handout was my own copy of the city’s Zoning Handbook, produced by the Department of City Planning. It's an accessible guide to the city's myriad zoning regulations, which, in the case of Atlantic Yards, are superseded by the Empire State Development Corporation.

I attended a useful seminar on land use and zoning, conducted by Anthony Borelli, the land use and planning director for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. (Here’s the online version of the office's Land Use 101. Slide excerpt below.)

The session highlighted an interesting timeline. New York, which initiated the nation’s first comprehensive zoning, did so in 1916. The city revamped its zoning code 45 years later, in 1961.

Since then, there have been updates—“to reflect the conditions that exist now, rather than in 1961, or anticipated in 1961,” Borelli said—but no comprehensive overhaul. Given that the 45-year mark was 2006, maybe we’re overdue.

AY & community planning

Of course, Atlantic Yards came up. I already reported how Atlantic Yards was suggested as exemplifying how developers “leapfrog” communities.

Also, the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods’ (CBN) Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact Statement Handbook was presented in the toolkit as an example of a comprehensive community response.

Discussing the role of the environmental impact statement, Hunter professor Tom Angotti, a consultant to CBN, told a group that “the process was set up to protect the developer from a lawsuit.”

Fisher's advice

Former City Council Member Ken Fisher, who lost to Marty Markowitz in the 2001 race for Brooklyn Borough President and is now a land use attorney, appeared as a special guest May 5, offering a lively, candid explanation of how the city works. (Fisher’s funny, but not clownish.)

“It’s not cheap to build parks and infrastructure,” he said, defending the contested Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront rezoning, allowing that “we’ll see in about ten years whether it works.”

He declared that, of elected officials, “25% are corrupt, lazy, and stupid; 25% are superstars, and 50% are somewhere in between.”

Politics, he said, is as much art as science, but politicians can be helpful to community groups by offering analysis, logistics, funding, networks. In return, they want recognition—and “they don’t like surprises.”

“Elected officials can give you credibility,” he said, and they can “give cover to the moderates, and vice versa,” when it comes to land use compromises. (That may be why elected officials have gravitated to BrooklynSpeaks in the Atlantic Yards dynamic.)

Fisher offered what seems to be a not atypical sense of wonder at the explosion of development in New York. “I’m stunned,” he said. “We can’t believe how amazing it is… The city is changing in remarkable ways.”

Community media 2.0

Interestingly, the community outreach advice during the Livable Neighborhoods program was rather traditional, advising community groups to make sure they sent press releases to media outlets, including web sites.

Unmentioned was how people and organizations can now create their own media via the web. Consider the ecosystem around Atlantic Yards. Community groups like Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, and BrooklynSpeaks all have their own web sites.

More general web sites that cover development like Gowanus Lounge and Brownstoner also discuss Atlantic Yards. NoLandGrab covers Atlantic Yards from soup to nuts, posting original documents, links, and comments. My Atlantic Yards Report offers reportage, analysis, and commentary. (I mention other AY-related sites here.)

Beyond creating an organizational web site, community planners could follow the NoLandGrab model, serving as a clearinghouse for all documents and news coverage about a topic, with commentary and analysis. Someone could even follow the Atlantic Yards Report model, which is a journalist self-assigned to examine a topic.

While both the NLG and the AYR strategy require much time and dedication, they obviously fill a void. Just as the community boards are underequipped compared to cities of comparable population, so communities in New York are underserved by the press.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…