Friday, October 05, 2007

Park Slope a great neighborhood, but then there's "over-success"

It sounds like the anti-Atlantic Yards, my ur-urban neighborhood of Park Slope, then there's a bit of a complication, the product of what the late Jane Jacobs would call "over-success."

The American Planning Association issued a press release headlined Park Slope Selected One of 10 Great Neighborhoods in America:
The American Planning Association (APA) announced today that Park Slope, located in Brooklyn, New York's City, has been designated as one of 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2007 through APA's Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value.

"Park Slope is a neighborhood that embodies urban vitality, with its rich history, unparalleled brownstone blocks, great cultural institutions, shops and restaurants, and vibrant civic and street life," said Amanda M. Burden, director of the Department of City Planning in New York City. "We are honored that APA has recognized the attributes that make Park Slope such a wonderful place. This is a treasured and acclaimed neighborhood made special by the people who live and work here."

APA selected Park Slope as one of 10 Great Neighborhoods in America for its architectural and historical features, its diverse mix of residents and businesses, all of which are supported and preserved by its active and involved citizenry.


Economic diversity?

The news coverage, as far as I could tell, left out the affordability issue, even though the press release called Park Slope "a testament to the value of economic, architectural and cultural diversity," according to APA Executive Director Paul Farmer.

As New York magazine recently observed in an article about the post-Dodgers legacy:
The colonizers’ crimes against the spirit of Brooklyn are legion and heavily blogged. Williamsburg is a hipster theme park soon to be augmented by luxury waterfront high-rises. Park Slope is a parody. There are $2.2 million brownstones in Fort Greene.

So the APA's claim faces continued pressure. One paragraph in the press release fudges some history:
Community participation is a touchstone of life in Park Slope and Community Board 6, the local government body that advises elected officials on matters affecting the neighborhood, is one of the most active community boards. Issues address[ed] by residents in the past include changes to local zoning ordinances so multi-family housing could be built along Fourth Avenue that would be more in keeping with the adjoining low-scale buildings.

Yes, the zoning audience harmonized height and density, but the city, as I wrote, missed an opportunity to require some measure of affordable housing in exchange for giving developers the right to build ever bigger.

Zoning bonuses & AY

“We used to give away the value in a rezoning, which is ludicrous," City Council Member Bill de Blasio recently said in an interview with Brooklyn bloggers. "Literally, four years ago, City Planning denied that affordable housing was a valid planning criterion. I had this argument with [Deputy Mayor] Dan Doctoroff personally, and Amanda Burden. They literally said affordable housing is not a City Planning consideration. That has changed night and day, to be fair.”

And that's one of the reasons de Blasio, along with other politicians, can seem to take the high road in supporting Atlantic Yards. On the other hand, any project over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard, such as one based on the UNITY plan, would include some significant measure of affordable housing.

So the challenge is to harmonize the social needs of Brooklyn with the virtues of a great neighborhood. These days the city tries to do that through a rezoning--except when it lets the state override zoning, as with Atlantic Yards, allowing what is essentially a privately negotiated density bonus.

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