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Showing posts from November, 2007

Officials redouble call for AY security study, warn that street closings would unleash a “tsunami”

Elected officials and community activists yesterday again called for an independent study of Atlantic Yards security, given the belated revelation last week, thanks to the New York Times, that parts of the planned Atlantic Yards arena would be only 20 feet from Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues.

City and state officials, along with developer Forest City Ratner, have not been willing to explain why the facility would be safer than the Prudential Center in Newark, where two adjacent blocks are closed during (and before/after) events because the arena was deemed too close to the street.

(Photos by Jonathan Barkey)

While members of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn were in attendance at the City Hall press conference yesterday, and CBN’s Eric McClure (above, flanked by City Council Members Bill de Blasio and Letitia James) hosted the event (here's the CBN press release), the strongest words came from two City Council members, de Blasio and David Y…

Panel: a stronger public sector might mitigate "oversuccess," but developer reality is scarce

The second-to-last panel in the series related to Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, dubbed The Oversuccessful City, Part 1: Developers' Realities, like several predecessor events, aired a good deal of unease concerning the city's situation, with a partial menu of solutions.

The panel, held Tuesday night at the spanking new Times Center, was summarized by the New York Times under a headline “Can New York Be Too Successful?”, with the conclusion that “no one really argued that the city could be too successful.”

That missed the point; “the dilemmas of affordable housing and out-of-scale development” are exactly a challenge resulting from what Jacobs called “oversuccess," and the solution, at least as some panelists suggested, is a stronger public sector.

The discussion, featuring Eugenie Birch of the University of Pennsylvania, Carlton Brown of Full Spectrum NY, Douglas Durst of the Durst Organization, and Greg O'Connell of Kings Harbor, touched on some pressing issu…

A community group set up to be bought out by Ratner?

At a panel last night held at the Museum of the City of New York, Modernism and the Public Realm, Fred Siegel, a historian and urbanist, offered a tantalizing Atlantic Yards anecdote.

Siegel, a Brooklynite, was highly critical of Atlantic Yards. (More on the panel Monday.) At one point, he said, "I know a local politician who began a community group with the express purpose of being bought out by Bruce Ratner."

I caught up with him afterward to ask him to elaborate, but he begged off. But what politician and group could he have been talking about?

The most obvious candidate is Roger Green, who as Assemblyman had a role in founding BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) and the Downtown Brooklyn Educational Consortium (DBEC), both signatories of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement. (The New York Observer in December 2005 offered details.)

BUILD actually was formed shortly before Atlantic Yards was announced, while the DBEC came later. But until and…

AY ombudsman: "It's a sexy project"

Today's New York Daily News article on the newly arrived Atlantic Yards ombudsman, headlined Ex-MTA executive Forrest Taylor takes on role as Atlantic Yards mediator, offers a quote from the ombudsman himself: "In my mind it's a sexy project. It's an important project. It creates housing and it creates jobs, and it's going to transform Brooklyn."

As Taylor gets acclimated, maybe he'll stop using the abstract shorthand preferred by his employer, the Empire State Development Corporation, and developer Forest City Ratner, that "the project" will create housing and jobs, and instead recognize that public funding--especially scarce housing bonds--and private funding are required.

And surely he'll learn that a good number of people think Atlantic Yards is much closer to "rough sex" or even a spaceship.

Ratner, Markowitz at the MetroTech tree lighting ceremony

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz appeared yesterday at the annual tree-lighting ceremony at Ratner's MetroTech project. The top photo is by Adrian Kinloch (set) and bottom photo is by Tracy Collins (set).

Three years after complaint, Williams departs Planning Commission with a $4000 fine; McRae the replacement

So, as first reported by Gotham Gazette on Tuesday, Dolly Williams, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's appointee to the New York City Planning Commission, has been fined $4000 for voting in favor of the Downtown Brooklyn Project in 2004, which contained a piece of the site for the Atlantic Yards project, for which she was already an investor.

(Here's the disposition. At right, copies of Williams's campaign contributions to candidates for city offices; the total, over more than a decade, is $18,800. Click to enlarge.)

The real question here is why it took the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) more than three years to reach a resolution after a complaint was filed by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB). However, the board is prohibited by law from commenting beyond the disposition it issues.

It's not likely that the COIB was doing Williams any specific favors. Until this year, the board was fairly moribund, according to an 8/9/07 report in the New York Sun,…

The proposals for the West Side yards get some more public discussion

The contrast between the process for developing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's West Side yards in Manhattan and its Vanderbilt Yard in Brooklyn remains striking.

Not only was there an RFP for the Manhattan project before a developer is selected, there's a lot more public discussion before such a selection. (With the Atlantic Yards project, Forest City Ratner was anointed by the city and state, if not formally selected, 18 months before an RFP for the Vanderbilt Yard--but not the whole project--was issued.)

Indeed, on Monday, December 3, representatives of the design teams for the five West Side yards proposals will present their plans in a public program co-sponsored by some heavyweight groups: the American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter; Architectural League of New York; Design Trust for Public Space; Fine Arts Federation; Friends of the High Line; Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art; Municip…

The Atlantic Yards ombudsman cometh, finally, and the questions begin

(Updated 5 pm Nov. 28)
More than 203 days after the position was first announced (clock via NoLandGrab), the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) announced it finally hired an Atlantic Yards ombudsman, Forrest R. Taylor, to serve as “the dedicated project coordinator and liaison between ESDC, elected officials, community representatives and the public.”

(Note: The ESDC has been using the term "ombudsperson;" however, given that the person selected is male, I'm going to join most of the press and go with the more traditional "ombudsman.")

Taylor (below), who started in the ESDC’s Manhattan headquarters on Monday but will be based at an office to be established in the area around the project site, comes with some significant credentials. He has served as chief of staff to City Council President Gifford Miller, deputy executive director for operations for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and chief of staff for the deputy mayor for finance and economic…

Priced Out: policies and pressures on affordable housing

“The housing situation is bleak,” declared City Council Member Letitia James, opening the “Priced Out” conference on “addressing the pressures of living in NYC,” sponsored by by the New York City Council Black, Latino and Asian Caucus over the first weekend in November at Pace University.

(Here´s more on the Atlantic Yards angle that surfaced occasionally.)

Elected officials speak

Some top elected officials offered some general recommendations, while activists, from the dais or on panels, were often more forceful about fighting some new pressures on affordability and achieving some sought-after reforms regarding rent regulation. (Not on the table, of course, were the conservative arguments about repealing rent regulation--here´s a Gotham Gazette article on the debate--or even the argument, by Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute, that mass-transit investments would achieve more housing than direct subsidies.)

Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President, offered the community-friendl…

At the "Priced Out" conference, some Atlantic Yards subtext

At the “Priced Out” conference on “addressing the pressures of living in NYC,” sponsored by by the New York City Council Black, Latino and Asian Caucus over the first weekend in November at Pace University, Atlantic Yards popped up several times, sometimes not so flatteringly. And it also led to some public diplomacy from both opponents and proponents.

(Here´s my longer report on the conference in general.)

Opening the conference, Council Member Letitia James, the most prominent opponent of Atlantic Yards, gave Atlantic Yards proponent ACORN a plug, citing the housing group’s 2003 study, “Sweetheart Development,” which pointed to a steady stream of luxury developments in and around Downtown Brooklyn. James didn’t mention either that ACORN’s study singled out Atlantic Yards as an exception or that on the Atlantic Yards issue she’s been opposite ACORN.

During one panel, Michael McKee, treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee, lamented that the city is steadily losing rent-stabil…

A short history of Atlantic Yards "rowback" in the New York Times

On Saturday, when the New York Times reported that the Atlantic Yards arena "is scheduled to open after 2009," (emphases added here and below), the Times didn´t say it was correcting a previous report that the arena would open in 2009.

That was a variant of "rowback," which former Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent described in his 3/14/04 column as "a way that a newspaper can cover its butt without admitting it was ever exposed." In other words, a correction without formally acknowledging a correction--even though the Times publishes the most minute factual corrections daily.

The Times has done this periodically, publishing updated correct information but without (in most cases) publishing corrections.

The eminent domain suit

4/5/07: The Times finally explains that the dismissal of the federal eminent domain suit did not mean the suit was gone for good but that the federal magistrate had said it could be better filed in state court. The original report failed…

Vacant lots, empty buildings = new opportunity for affordable housing

In the 1970s, New York City took over some 100,000 properties abandoned for nonpayment of taxes, and in subsequent decades helped community development groups fix them to create affordable housing. The numbers remaining are few, so the city now practices new tactics--tax incentives or increased development rights--to stimulate affordable housing.

But other solutions remain, notably the utilization of vacant or abandoned properties that are not in tax arrears. Unlike some other cities, notably Boston (as reported on the DMI blog), New York doesn't keep an inventory, nor has it changed any tax policies to incentivize owners.

(Regarding some seemingly stagnant properties in the Atlantic Yards footprint, the state got around the lack of incentives by declaring them blighted. A rezoning, however, might have done the trick.)

A lot of vacant properties

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, in partnership with Picture the Homeless, decided to rectify that. They sponsored a study release…

Critic Ouroussoff is much tougher on MTA´s role in West Side plan than in Brooklyn

From New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ourousoff´s review yesterday of the five plans for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority´s West Side yards, headlined In Plans for Railyards, a Mix of Towers and Parks:
So the five proposals recently unveiled by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to develop the 26-acre Manhattan railyards are not just a disappointment for their lack of imagination, they are also a grim referendum on the state of large-scale planning in New York City.

Ouroussoff´s tough on the emphasis on the bottom line:
But what is really at issue here is putting the importance of profit margins above architecture and planning. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority could have pushed for more ambitious proposals. For decades now cities like Barcelona have insisted on a high level of design in large-scale urban-planning projects, and they have done so without economic ruin.

Atlantic Yards was better?

Let´s recall his 7/5/05 enthrallment with the Atlantic Yards…

A busy week of panels on Jane Jacobs and modernism

Upcoming this week are a series of panels regarding urbanism. Descriptions below are taken from the official announcements.

Tuesday

Tuesday, November 27, 6:30 pm
The Oversuccessful City, Part 1: Developers' Realities
At the New York Times Stage Auditorium, 620 Eighth Ave

There are economic realities that underlie development and change in the city, all the more so in flush times. In facing the challenges of the growing city, New Yorkers need to consider these truths and their implications. This, the first of two panels on what Jane Jacobs called "oversuccess," will consider these issues primarily from the developer's perspective — with the objective of opening up a conversation about economics, land value and other issues that shape the city.

Charles Bagli of the New York Times will lead a panel featuring Eugenie Birch of the University of Pennsylvania, Carlton Brown of Full Spectrum NY, Douglas Durst of the Durst Organization, and Greg O'Connell of Kings Harbor View A…

A "few million square feet of commercial space"? Not quite

From today´s Times article on the arena setbacks:
Atlantic Yards is slated to include more than 6,000 apartments and a few million square feet of commercial space...

Actually, no. At this point, it would be 336,000 square feet in the residential mixed-use variation, which is the variation currently under discussion.

There is a commercial mixed-use variation with much more office space, but if Forest City Ratner were taking it seriously at this point, they´d be talking about all the office jobs planned. And note that, with that variation, there would not be more than 6000 apartments.

From Chapter 1, Project Description, of the Final Environmental Impact Statement of the Empire State Development:
Two variations of the project program are under consideration to allow for flexibility in the program of three of the proposed project’s 17 buildings: (1) a residential mixed-use variation containing approximately 336,000 gross square feet (gsf) of commercial office space, 165,000 gsf of hotel use (…

Ok, now the setbacks story makes the print Times, but

From today´s New York Times, in an article headlined A Brooklyn Arena and the Street: What’s the Right Distance?, the news comes in paragraph five (which is better than the original blog post, where the point wasn´t quite made):
For weeks, the project’s developer, Forest City Ratner, and its state sponsor, the Empire State Development Corporation, had deflected questions from bloggers about the arena’s location, saying that they could not divulge information related to security.

Actually, not just ¨bloggers¨(who might just be legit journalists) but also print journalists.

More from today´s article, paragraph nine:
After this calculation was published in The Times on Nov. 8, Atlantic Yards watchdogs said that it was not realistic and that the arena was going to be much closer to the street, citing architect’s renderings and language in plan documents.


That leaves out the original blog´s link to the explicit corrective information. OK, this is in print, but how about a URL?

Paragraph 12, the…

In Philadelphia, at least, “socially patient” capital

We are told that the justification for the size of certain projects, like Atlantic Yards and the New Domino in Williamsburg, is the inclusion of affordable housing and other social goals, but another justification is certainly the expected return by the developers—which remains a mystery.

But we shouldn’t think that for-profit developers are making a major sacrifice—the social goals are factored in, subsidized by the public, and offset by market-rate units that would bring the expected (yet unspecified) profit. Yes, risk and vision should reap reward, but that deserves some public vetting when there are so many public dollars at stake.

By contrast, nonprofit developers—which, it should be said, may not always have the institutional weight and expertise to pull off large projects—can factor in other goals. In her book The University and Urban Revival: Out of the Ivory Tower and Into the Streets, by Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and former president of the Universi…