Saturday, March 14, 2009

Times real estate magazine article on "Post-Bubble NYC" gets AY wrong (and boosts Bloomberg)

From Sunday's Key magazine, the real estate supplement to the New York Times Magazine, an article headlined After the Bubble provides a mostly admiring portrait of Mayor Mike Bloomberg's development ambitions, and the future of such ambitions.

It contains this sentence:
Thousands of apartment units and a new arena for the Nets would rise on the site of the Atlantic Yards in downtown Brooklyn.

Well, there's a planned or proposed Atlantic Yards site, but there's no "site of the Atlantic Yards," because the railyard is called the Vanderbilt Yard. The project would not be in downtown Brooklyn. Other sections of the Times have fixed such mistakes, but the Times, a many-headed beast, continues to produce errors.

Empowering the private sector

The article states:
And yet his legacy is already visible on the city’s landscape. It is less sweeping, perhaps, but no less significant: he empowered the private sector to remake the city bit by bit.

This was partly a function of the way Bloomberg ran New York, a natural byproduct of his ability to govern the ungovernable city. “The perception under Bloomberg has been that New York is a good place to do business, and that’s very important for developers,” says Jonathan Miller, one of the city’s best-known real estate appraisers.

But it was also deliberate. Bloomberg is a businessman. He believes in growth and has faith in the private sector. His administration expedited permits and signed off on building designs with minimal interference. It also freed up underutilized land — old piers, elevated freight lines, warehousing districts, rail yards — either by rezoning or by threatening to employ its powers of eminent domain. In many cases it offered attractive incentives, most notably tax breaks, to encourage companies to build. The administration did its share of construction too, adding parks across the boroughs and along the city’s long-neglected waterfront and, in partnership with private developers, initiating New York’s largest affordable-housing project in decades.


Well, isn't there a big difference between rezoning, which involves some level of accountability, and threatening to use eminent domain? And isn't there a difference between both of those and turning the decision to deploy eminent domain to an unaccountable state agency like the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), as in the case of Atlantic Yards?

What's missing in this sunny passage? Democracy.

Some problems acknowledged

Author Jonathan Mahler acknowledges some drawbacks:
But the building boom, while breathing new life into a number of long-struggling neighborhoods, was problematic in its own right. New York got some first-class architecture, but it also got more than its share of eyesores, and the proliferation of luxury-condo towers accelerated the regrettable transformation of Manhattan into an island of the wealthy. Too much of the new construction did nothing to enrich the fabric of the city. “Here we practice the art of the deal, not the art of the city,” as the architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable has put it.

The downturn will give New York a chance to pause and reflect on this period of hyperactive development, and to think about what sort of buildings it needs in the future.


New York is some abstract entity that will reflect?

How about putting it plainly: reform of the processes regarding land use is necessary.

Need for infrastructure

The final quotes go to the (new) head of an organization that is sometimes a cordial critic of Bloomberg, and to Bloomberg's former deputy mayor:
Better still, the absence of private capital may spur federal investment that could enable the city to not simply patch up its deteriorating infrastructure but to reinvent it for a new, greener era. “Even though we’ve come through a period of real economic development, we have an infrastructure that badly needs investment and imagination,” says Vin Cipolla, president of New York’s Municipal Arts Society.

For its part, the Bloomberg administration has no intention of scaling back its Moses-like ambitions. When I spoke recently with [Dan] Doctoroff, who is now president of Bloomberg L.P., he told me that he and his colleagues had always envisioned their grand scheme as part of a long-term plan for New York. They never assumed they could outrun the next bust. “We are now in the middle of the 12th serious downturn since New York became a major financial center in the early 19th century,” Doctoroff said. “The lesson of every single one of these previous 11 busts is that the city always comes back stronger than ever. History is perfect on that one.”


If the administration has no intention of scaling back its Moses-like ambitions, expect--despite the absence of such acknowledgment in this article--continued (Jane) Jacobsian responses.

1 comment:

  1. There is something frigtening about Bloomberg's vision, even more frigtening, the arrogance and total non moral assertiveness of someone like Dan Doctoroff

    ReplyDelete