Monday, October 27, 2008

Caveats regarding the real estate media (#9 In Brownstoner's list) and the "Men of Myrtle"

In Brownstoner's list of the Top 50 "most influential people who have shaped Brooklyn neighborhoods," the Media (including me) snag the #9 slot and, while I won't quibble with the ranking, I do think the congratulatory air deserves some caveats.

Brownstoner states:
If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? No matter, with hundreds of reporters and bloggers in Brooklyn even the mere crack of a twig can turn into a fever pitch, and as a blog, we see media as a collective force since its work product is consolidated on our pages (yes, we know this is shameless cheating). Battles over projects like the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment, Atlantic Yards and Coney Island are played out in the media daily, swaying public opinion, galvanizing activists, and selling the borough to buyers and investors. Speaking of buyers, a National Association of Home Builders study found during the boom years, over half said media reports had an impact on their decision -- where to buy, when, and at what price. An updated study was done during these bust years, and a spokeswoman told us the number was much higher but declined to release the figure. In Brownstone Brooklyn, with three of the nation's bloggiest communities, buyers especially have the edge, and may even discover a neighborhood they wouldn't have previously considered. A few of the many local notables: New York Post reporter Rich Calder and Daily News reporter Jotham Sederstrom break Brooklyn stories in the tabloid wars, and Brooklyn Daily Eagle columnist Dennis Holt and Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman disagree about almost everything in the local rags. Our publisher Jonathan Butler started Brooklyn’s most-read blog (our commenters, the New York magazine noted, encapsulate the “Brooklyn Wars”), and a city-wide hit with the Brooklyn Flea, bringing an average of 5,000 people into Clinton Hill every weekend. Other notable bloggers include Robert Guskind, founder of Gowanus Lounge and Brooklyn editor of city-wide Curbed, and Norman Oder, who has broken multiple stories on his Atlantic Yards Report. And speaking of Atlantic Yards, No Land Grab is the site that has tirelessly compiled every iota of media since the fight began.

Missing: the Times's Bagli

While in the list as a whole Brownstoner understandably tried to avoid personages of city-wide influence, the single most influential journalist covering real estate is Charles Bagli, real estate and development reporter for the New York Times. Only Bagli, it seems, can get Bruce Ratner (#1 on Brownstoner's list) to sit down mano a mano, driving the citywide (and even national) discourse with articles about the Atlantic Yards stall and, less credibly, the phantom scaleback.

If and when Bagli turns his attention to the New Domino project in Williamsburg, for example, maybe the city will recognize the project is much less about historic preservation than, as with Atlantic Yards, a request to build bigger than currently allowed. (In this case, it's a city rezoning, rather than, as with AY, a state override of zoning.)

What's missing

While, as Brownstoner states, the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment, Atlantic Yards, and Coney Island all have gotten significant airing in the media, it's embarrassing that the citywide media could have misread a New Domino waterfront opening event on October 19; rebloggers at Brownstoner (and elsewhere) followed along.

"Nowhere in the country do so many people get so little local coverage," Brooklyn College professor Paul Moses has observed about Brooklyn's place in the local mediascape, given that Brooklyn, which would be the country's fourth-largest city if it were independent, does not have a comprehensive daily newspaper.

Yes, the publications, including blogs, cited by Brownstoner, have covered in great detail the development game, including issues of pricing, DOB violations, landmarking, and architecture, as well as events at community meetings. That's been valuable. (Also, though the commentary on Brownstoner can get snarky, it clearly generates readers.)

But it hasn't been always complemented by some deeper reporting less tied to higher-end neighborhoods. For example, it took months before the concept of "predatory equity"--investment funds making speculative investments in rental housing, intending to raise rents significantly-- got any traction among city officials, after local activists made the point, and months before the term hit the New York Times. (How often have we seen "predatory equity" on Brownstoner? None, as far as I can tell.)

And, while blogs have on the whole added to the discourse, the focus (my own included) on specific controversies can obscure the fact that other worthy issues deserve attention, such as the long-delayed Ingersoll Community Center. We need new bloggers to produce original material, not merely to echo and/or comment.

And what about the big stories that are under the radar? Surely we've all seen ads for United Homes; is the lawsuit against them, which claims predatory lending practices, bogus or just the tip of the iceberg? (It was referenced in a comment on Brownstoner.)

Developer-friendly list?

I'm not the only one to notice other flaws in Brownstoner's list. While there are some interesting names--for example, restaurateur Jim Mamary and a couple of land-use attorneys--as one commentator noted, "I know this is Brownstoner, and thus a blog that focuses in on real estate issues. But it seems like there are an awful lot of developers on this list."

Well, any list is subjective, and Brownstoner's treatment invites shorthand. Still, the summaries can be a little developer-friendly. One example:
18.The Men of Myrtle. The hopes of Downtown Brooklyn as a residential hub hinge on the critical mass of buildings rising at or near the intersection of Flatbush and Myrtle Avenues. The Oro, the 309-unit tower brought to you by United Homes, was the first to be completed, but a second Oro tower next door has been hanging in the balance. Next online has been The Toren, a 38-story, SOM-designed tower developed by BFC that's managed to stand out from the crown by emphasizing its design and green-ness. Avalon Bay is hard at work on its 650-unit rental project across the street. Pulling up the rear at 202 Myrtle Avenue is the first phase of John Catsimatidis' planned four-part complex which will hopefully provide some much needed supermarket and drugstore retail. A block away on Flatbush, work at the Isaac Hager's Flatbush Flatiron has been mightly slow lately. (Hager's also busy over on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg.)

Let's note that the Toren (a Brownstoner advertiser) has also stood out for its use (abuse, according to the Village Voice) of non-union labor.

If Catsimatidis will "hopefully provide some much needed supermarket and drugstore retail," that's because he tore down existing such retail and residents have been frustrated it's taken so long. And, as noted above, Oro developer United Homes has also been questioned.

No comments:

Post a Comment