Not just "the first-tier opponents of Atlantic Yards" like Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn but also other neighborhood groups like the Cobble Hill Association, Community Board 6, and even the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA), which "took a negatively-tinged wait-and-see stance on Atlantic Yards."
That means that the BHA joined BrooklynSpeaks, which has (had?) a philosophy of mend-it-don't-end-it. If Krogius is going to take a swing at BrooklynSpeaks, he has to also take on the corporate-friendly Regional Plan Association, which criticized the project but essentially endorsed it.
Who else to blame?
What is so disappointing is that so many Brooklynites jumped immediately to a hostile view of the project rather than seeing it for the brilliant proposal it was. Some sensational local papers abetted the hostility. The literary and intellectual set, which might have been expected to respond to so imaginative and idea, tended instead to retreat to a sentimental preservationism (preservation of what?!), as manifested by such as the author Jonathan Lethem and the children’s performer Dan Zanes. There was even a purported “documentary” film created to fight the project.
Sentimental preservationism? In his open letter to Frank Gehry in Slate magazine, Lethem wrote, in part:
When local politicians speak of the need for growth and renovation in the partly desolate areas encompassed within Ratner's footprint, they're not wrong. Those of us who have long lived in range of the Atlantic and Flatbush intersection do connect that area with the vanishing of the Dodgers and other symbols of Brooklyn's disappointment and thwarted potential. It's precisely that legacy of long expectation that dictates we not accept a pre-emptive engulfment by a single private corporation—especially one so imperiously allergic to genuine dialogue and meaningful compromise, and with such a bad track record.
As for the documentary, it's called Brooklyn Matters. Sure, it's prosecutorial, but it might teach Krogius a thing or two. So might video of the oversight hearing May 29.
Frank Gehry’s design for the Nets arena will not get built, its cost having escalated through a combination of lawsuit-caused delays, inflation, and the economic downturn. Instead of Gehry’s elegant oval situated between the bases of towers to either side – a design that would have added real interest to the streetscape along both Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue – we will get something looking more like an airplane hangar, designed by the sports arena specialists Ellerbe Becket of Kansas City and expected to shave one-fifth off the $1-billion cost of the Gehry design.
Well, yes, Gehry's design would have added interest, but was it realistic? Were any office towers ever realistic? Once the last office tower, Building 1, became un-realistic, Gehry's plan unraveled. What about the funding for affordable housing--was there ever enough to make the other three towers realistic?
Why did the State Funding Agreement, signed in September 2007 before the economic crash, give Forest City Ratner 12 years to build Phase 1, essentially giving the developer an easy out from Gehry's plan? And why should Ellerbe Becket's off-the-shelf arena cost $800 million?
How planning might work
Krogius takes a jab at planning:
Community planning boards, established as a way to prevent the roughshod bulldozing of neighborhoods by Robert Moses, as well as to further the street-oriented ideas of Jane Jacobs, have had some beneficial effect in modifying the more disruptive elements of proposed projects. But mostly they are not really planning boards in the sense of originating ideas. The notion of “community planning,” as it was invoked by critics of Atlantic Yards, consisted of trying to throw out the original concept and substitute for it some tepid, uninteresting, banal alternatives. It was a strictly reactive approach to a proposal whose vision and scope had not occurred to those reacting.
Community boards do, in fact, create 197-a plans that can be frameworks for development but are so underfunded they can't regularly initiate bold plans.
The "vision and scope" of Atlantic Yards had not occurred to city officials either, because, as a City Planning official said, they weren't yet focusing on the active railyard. Had there been a different planning process--notably an open competition--more ideas would have emerged.
The UNITY Plan is hardly perfect, but it has evolved, and would evolve more should it go forward. But shouldn't Krogius address UNITY's concept of developing a large site in multiple parcels, so as to speed development, rather than letting Forest City Ratner control it for "decades," as Empire State Development CEO Marisa Lago said in April?
Abuse of process?
Krogius has no problem with trumped-up claims of blight, concluding that the real blame has to fall on Atlantic Yards’ willful opponents and the lack of civic outrage in Brooklyn that allowed them latitude to pursue their abuse of the legal process. Even Pratt Institute played an ignoble part in the sorry history. So, if Ratner became cynical, there was basis for his cynicism.
DDDB attorneys on Tuesday addressed the question of frivolous litigation.
As for Pratt, I'm assuming Krogius does not mean the Institute's caution (so I've heard) about allowing firm security enforcement at the recent oversight hearing but rather the sober March 2005 Slam Dunk or Air Ball? report the Institute put out, which contained the much-ignored (at the time) conclusion that Forest City Ratner's economic claims for the project were bunk.
Taking on Jane Jacobs
It is time to come away from the belief that only small projects are desirable. The Jane Jacobs approach has proved excessively limiting.
True, Jacobs is often invoked by those who speak for neighborhood scale, though the Jacobsian Roberta Brandes Gratz rightly wrote in City Limits that Jacobs believed in big projects like mass transit; boulevards and greenways; real public space; vast school and health care systems; and economic development that did not rely on large construction projects.
More recently, planner Alexander Garvin, no neighborhood preservationist, has argued for strengthening the public realm, "the quality of life of a great city,” including streets, squares, transportation systems, schools, public buildings, and parks: "Because if the framework is right, then private development around it will grow up in a way which is complementary.”
Reflecting on the exhibit honoring Jacobs, I wondered (spurred by commentators like Andrew Blum) that the question remained as to how today's Jacobsians could best support the provision of more affordable housing, a selling point for Atlantic Yards. It's a lingering issue.
But Jacobs wrote her seminal book nearly 50 years ago. So perhaps the most resonant advice, for Krogius and the rest of us (who must listen to Brett Yormark), comes from Paul Goldberger: