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Showing posts from September, 2007

Near-gridlock at tour's end, and the effect on AY & UNITY

The walking tour I led yesterday (with the help of Ron Shiffman) of the Atlantic Yards footprint and environs wound up, after two-and-a-half hours, on Pacific Street just west of Flatbush Avenue, outside the Brooklyn Bear's Garden. (About 50 people showed up, very few of whom I recognized as involved in Atlantic Yards-related activism.)

The traffic on Flatbush was relentless. It was hard to imagine how a Saturday afternoon arena event could be accommodated unless there were significant changes to the area transportation system, beyond the mitigations--among them a free MetroCard (for basketball games, not concerts) and shuttle buses (ditto)--planned as of now.

Also, though the alternative UNITY plan Shiffman helped develop calls for a park on the triangular plot opposite the garden, between Flatbush, Fifth, and Atlantic avenues, it sure didn't seem like that salubrious a place to gather, given the traffic on Atlantic as well. Many of the major transportation changes that are pro…

One more day to see Future Perfect, an interactive view of AY

After walking around the Atlantic Yards footprint yesterday, trying to describe, with some visual aids, what Forest City Ratner aims to build, it was a trippy experience to see the Future Perfect installation at the d.u.m.b.o. art under the bridge festival.

(It's showing through today--from 1 to 6 pm, maybe later--at 20 Jay Street, M24, on the Mezzanine floor.)

The video shows the streets of Prospect Heights, but as you walk closer to the installation, architectural renderings of the project appear on the screen, while taped phone calls of residents expressing their opinions about the project are heard. (A majority, I think, are negative, but the voices are tough to decipher in places.)

Walk even closer and we see instead images produced by local schoolchildren--their vision for the streets. As the designers state, "The installation is interactive in that both these 'futures' are only revealed by someone's physical presence."

Given that children tend not to imagi…

Exorcising the Dodgers, redux

A good backdrop to that recent New York magazine article on "Exorcising the Dodgers" would be The Glory Days: New York Baseball 1947-1957, a bang-up exhibit about the rivalry and cultural presence of the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants, running through December 31 at the Museum of the City of New York.

Both the Dodgers and Giants have left and, of course, it was a different era a half-century ago. One exhibit panel states:
Why do the Glory Days continue to exert such a hold on the fans who experienced them? In part, is is because baseball was the big game in town, not yet truly challenged by the other league sports such as football or basketball. But while it was the big time, it was not yet the big business it is today--players lived among the fans and there was a sense of shared identity...

(The companion volume.)

Jane Jacobs was wrong about a stadium, but Toronto ain't Brooklyn

So, what might the late Jane Jacobs think of the planned Atlantic Yards arena, thrust--on two borders--into a low-rise residential neighborhood? We can't be certain, but we can say that a sports facility she famously misjudged was quite different.

In a 5/31/93 New York Times profile of Jacobs, headlined An Expert on Cities, at Home in the World, followed the urbanist as she gave a tour of her longtime home of Toronto. Eventually the tour reached the SkyDome, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, and now known as the Rogers Centre.

The Times reported:
Because the Sky Dome is amid downtown office buildings with ample parking and easily accessible by public transit, it did not require the sort of vast parking lots that turn the areas surrounding most stadiums into wastelands. The Sky Dome also incorporates stores and hotels that make it active even during the off season.

"Before it was built, I had thought that would be a terrible site for a stadium, blighting the area like other stadiums,…

Two residential tenants settle, leave eminent domain suit

Two residential tenants (of seven) among the original 13 plaintiffs in the eminent domain suit challenging Atlantic Yards have settled their cases, reports the Brooklyn Paper, in an article headlined Lawsuit against Atlantic Yards is losing its plaintiffs one by one. (An additional commercial property owner plaintiff has since been added, from a parallel case that was consolidated.)

The Paper's Ariella Cohen (who is leaving the newspaper) quoted the tenants' attorney, Jennifer Levy: “[The tenants] don’t agree with the project, but their rights are limited under the law, so if they are being offered something that protects their rights, they will take it.” (They were not named, and a confidentiality agreement prevents them from commenting.)

Should we expect any of the five other tenants with rent-regulated leases to settle their cases, as the October 9 date for oral argument in the plaintiffs' appeal approaches? Levy said four others were in settlement talks, so it's quit…

The road not taken: City Council limits high-rise buildings... on the Upper West Side

From a New York Times article Wednesday headlined Council Approves Plan to Limit High-Rises on Upper West Side:
The City Council unanimously passed a rezoning plan yesterday that limits the spread of high-rise buildings along 51 blocks on the Upper West Side, an area that officials say has undergone a significant increase in development.

The plan is intended to preserve the physical character of the community. It generally limits buildings to 14 stories along Broadway; 10 to 11 stories along the other avenues; and 6 to 7 stories on the side streets. Additionally, it imposes design restrictions so that new developments more closely match the neighborhoods around them.

Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito, a Manhattan Democrat who represents the area, called the plan a “safeguard against aggressive overdevelopment that is running rampant throughout the city.”

...The plan was prompted by the construction of 37- and 31-story condominium towers along Broadway near 99th Street by the Extell De…

In appellate court, AY renters' case finds little sympathy

Can the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), pursuing "friendly condemnations," override the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), which typically must grant permission to a landlord who wishes to demolish a building housing residential tenants with rent-stabilized leases?

The answer, not previously decided by the courts, appears more likely to be yes, allowing such "friendly condemnations," in which Forest City Ratner-owned buildings are transferred to ESDC ownership, thus ending the leases far more speedily than the process would occur under DHCR.

In May, State Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub dismissed a challenge from 13 tenants (all but one rent-stabilized) in the Atlantic Yards footprint, saying that the case belonged instead in the appellate court designated to hear eminent domain determinations, but without the advantages to the plaintiffs of a trial.

Appealing Tolub's ruling to a different appellate court, the tenants…

Would Jane Jacobs approve of AY? One Time Out-ster thinks so

The folks at Time Out New York have offered some off-the-cuff blogging on Jane Jacobs and Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards, so I'll offer some off-the-cuff responses.

(Graphic of Bruce Ratner/Jane Jacobs and further commentary from NoLandGrab's Lumi Rolley.)

First off, The great Jane debate: Opening salvo:
Since the goal is to make this interesting, I’m starting it controversially: I think J.J. would approve of Atlantic Yards. Actually, she was a cranky broad who no doubt would have found many faults with it. Let me rephrase. I think Atlantic Yards largely follows Jacobs’s principles and would enliven that neighborhood in a way she would admire.

What neighborhood? Atlantic Yards would be in a border zone, at the edge of Prospect Heights, across a highway from Fort Greene, nudging up against Park Slope and Boerum Hill, and extending the reach of Downtown Brooklyn.

As for following Jacobsian principles, well, I disagree.

The entry continues:
Let’s look at it through the J.J. len…

We are all Jacobsian now--but what about process?

At the reception and awards ceremony Monday night at the Morgan Library and Museum in honor of the Jane Jacobs Medals, a few hundred New Yorkers were present, among them architects, journalists, designers, planners, developers, community activists, and curators. But only a handful, all elected or appointed city officials, were hailed from the lectern by Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin.

They were City Council President Christine Quinn; Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum; Empire State Development (ESDC) Downstate Chairman Patrick Foye; City Planning Commission (CPC) Chairwoman Amanda Burden; Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe (son of medal winner Barry Benepe); Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan; and Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney.

Given that the essentially pragmatic Jacobs was embraced by so many—see Francis Morrone’s deft essay in the New York Sun on the various constituencies that invoke her—and is such as an enduring urban thinker, it’s n…

Ratner's Atlantic Center, Site V gain attention as "worst buildings"

Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Center Mall made WNYC listeners' 11-building list of the city's worst buildings. Guest expert and New York Times columnist Christopher Gray's list, by contrast, was limited to Manhattan--and he said he didn't agree with listener choices of buildings by name architects.

[Updated/corrected] Note that Atlantic Center, and its sibling, the Shops at Site V across Flatbush Avenue, were never aimed to be great work. Indeed, during the episode yesterday, host Leonard Lopate led off by disparaging the bunker-like P.C. Richard store, which shares Site V with Modell's.

Lopate noted that some people criticize ambitious but failed works by major architects, while "there are other people like me that think that the P.C. Richard's store on Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush has to be the worst thing."... Whoever did the P.C. Richard should have been designing army barracks."

The buildings at Site V, clearly built by Forest City Ratner …

Tish James on the UNITY plan

The UNITY plan launched yesterday may not have the backing of numerous public officials, but it does have Council Member Letitia James, the elected official most prominent in opposition to Atlantic Yards. Since I missed her appearance at yesterday's press conference, I asked her for a comment.

(Photo by Jonathan Barkey)

She said that UNITY "truly respects the character of this historic community. Open space and low-rise residential growth reflect the wishes of community residents regarding what should be built over the rail yards. The community and I do not oppose development, just eminent domain abuse and out-of-scale buildings."

"I, along with others, anticipate not only getting involved with the process, but helping to shape the process. I am pleased that the UNITY Plan includes more pedestrian connections across Atlantic Avenue, integrating neighborhoods that are separated by the yards, and potentially slowing down traffic on Atlantic Avenue. And, the proposal incl…

UNITY 2007: a new, Jacobsian plan for the Vanderbilt Yard

At the same time last night that the legacy of noted urban thinker Jane Jacobs was being celebrated at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan, a prelude to an exhibit opening today, the much more modest Soapbox Gallery in Prospect Heights hosted a community forum introducing the UNITY (Understanding, Imagining and Transforming the Yards) plan, a much more Jacobsian way to develop the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard.

(Photos by Jonathan Barkey)

The idea is that if Atlantic Yards does not get built as planned, or is scotched altogether, an alternative plan, with significant bulk but not “extreme density,” limited to the railyards and an adjacent plot, could emerge.

According to a draft report issued by its organizers, planners and architects engaged under the banner of AY critics and opponents, UNITY would offer “a larger proportion of truly affordable housing, sustainable jobs and start-up businesses for local residents, improved transit, pedestrian and bicycle…

The departing "middle-class" and AY affordable housing

New York City Comptroller William Thompson on Sept. 12 issued a report on New York's 2005 outmigration patterns involving various income groups, and it was quickly used by columnist Errol Louis to argue for projects like Atlantic Yards that would include subsidized housing for the middle-class.

Not so fast. It turns out that moderate-income residents departing the city would not be helped much by Atlantic Yards, given that those in their (approximate) income bracket would be eligible for only 450 of the 2250 affordable units. In fact, when the affordable housing deal was first announced, 900 units were aimed at this demographic; developer Forest City Ratner instead shifted more of the affordable units to higher income brackets.

Thompson's press release, headlined THOMPSON: MODERATE-INCOME HOUSEHOLDS MOST LIKELY TO LEAVE NYC, made some somewhat subtle points:
Moderate-income ($40,000 to $59,999 annual income) and higher-income households ($140,000 to $249,999 annual income) were m…

Bye, bye Pacific Street blight, thanks to citizen action

What a difference a handful of people and some garden tools can make. After yesterday's clean-up effort on Pacific Street bordering the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard, a 50-yard stretch was bushwacked, clearing overgrown weeds (four feet high, and blocking the sidewalk), significant amounts of waste and debris, and recyclable bottles, all the result of governmental neglect of a site the Empire State Development Corporation deems blighted.

(Above: Deb Goldstein and Jon Crow get to work shortly after noon. Below, some of the result nearly five hours later.)

The tally

The tally, according to organizer Deb Goldstein, included 17 42-gallon bags of garbage, a large assemblage of weeds and greenery for composting (below), and 13 bags of recyclables. The area next to the railyard seems to be a magnet for Poland Spring water bottles, other drink containers, foot tins, random glass, some clothes, compact discs, fast food wrappers, and even diapers.

A representative …

"The Landlord," til Tuesday, takes us to 1969 Park Slope

Um, remember Park Slope in the late 1960s, the time of redlining, trash-strewn empty lots, and battered buildings? I don't, though I've heard tell, so the next best thing is to get to the Film Forum (through Tuesday only), to see Hal Ashby's 1970 movie "The Landlord," an entertaining and jolting portrait of a neighborhood and an era.

The New York Times, in feature headlined Before Gentrification Was Cool, It Was a Movie, describes it as "an experimental, satirical film, from a script by an unknown black screenwriter, about a wealthy young white man who decides to buy a Brooklyn tenement and ease out the black tenants so he can gut it and move in."

Indeed, when Elgar Enders' family learns he's bought a building "in the Park Slope area," the response is, "Are you aware that's a colored neighborhood?"

(Was it? I'd thought that the population was as much Latino as black, but maybe some readers can correct me. I can say that …

Sunday is (belated) clean-up day on Pacific Street

It's an idea whose time has come and Atlantic Yards opponents wishing to make a very good point could have jumped on it even sooner: if the government won't clean up the overgrown brush and other mess on Pacific Street next to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's "blighted" Vanderbilt Yard, then it's time for citizens to do so.

NoLandGrab (source of graphic) reports the details:
Supplies provided. Please feel free to bring extra Gloves, Gardening Tools, Garbage/Recycling Bags.

An e-mail message describes participants as "Neighbors, members of the community, DDDB & Local Garden Group volunteers, anyone who is 'mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.'"

The state punted

Remember, in comments last year on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement, several commenters criticized city agencies and the MTA for failing "to maintain the appearance of the rail yards and [ignoring] local residents when we requested such at…

IBO calculates more (modest) costs to the city from AY arena

One more piece of the Atlantic Yards fiscal puzzle has been filled in. The use of tax exempt bonds for the Atlantic Yards arena would cost the city $5.2 million foregone tax revenue over 30 years, expressed in present value, according to a letter from the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO), which in a 2005 report on the project had eschewed specific estimates.

As predicted in that report, the costs would be much higher for the federal government; IBO estimated the costs to the federal government of $103.7 million and to the state government of $9.5 million.

IBO in 2005 estimated total savings of $91 million to developer Forest City Ratner, based on an arena estimated to cost $555.3 million. Now, with an arena estimated to cost $637.2 million, IBO estimates savings of $82 million, a lower figure.

Why? Interests rates are now lower. "This is because the increase in the projected cost of the arena is more than offset by the effect of the lower interest rate," wrote IBO …

The “other” Atlantic Yards legal cases return to court

While many Atlantic Yards watchers are anticipating the October 9 oral argument in the appeal of the dismissal of the federal eminent domain lawsuit and expecting a decision soon in the state case challenging the project environmental review, two other cases, both involving 13 renters in two buildings, are moving toward arguments in court.

One of the cases, which challenges the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) relocation offer, in fact is the only case formally blocking the agency from moving to condemn properties. “At minimum, they can’t do anything to my clients until the case is over,” said George Locker, attorney for the plaintiffs, at 624 Pacific Street and 473 Dean Street.

The state has promised to provide the services of a real estate broker, moving assistance, and a $5000 payment—but that, Locker argues, will hardly guarantee similarly affordable housing. (Of the 13 plaintiffs, 12 have rent-stabilized leases, and many pay rents that are $500-$600.)

That case, which w…