Thursday, August 13, 2009

A bizarrely belated AY debate in the Brooklyn Eagle, plus Jane Jacobs's 2004 criticism of subsidizing stadiums

It was a bit of a surprise yesterday to see a piece in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle online, marked "Editorial viewpoint," headlined Some Critical Thoughts on Atlantic Yards, and attributed to "by Brooklyn Eagle."

That's because the Eagle decided to run my full post from June 11, with comments, critiquing an essay by the Eagle's Henrik Krogius. At the bottom of the piece (screenshot below), below a brief response by Krogius, was the notation "sent by Norman Oder."

I didn't send it and, given the two-month gap, whoever did send it must have used Snail Express. I captured the screenshots above and below. Then, after a couple of phone calls and emails, the Eagle agreed to excise the "sent by" and give me some kind of credit up top, so the piece now looks different. They did not, however, publish the clarification I requested. And the whole thing was in print, as well.

Ironically enough, the Eagle warns readers that "It’s not considered polite to paste the entire story on your blog." I decided not to push it because I borrowed liberally from the Eagle, albeit for a noncommercial site.  But the Eagle is a commercial enterprise.

Let's just say the Eagle doesn't quite get the "Internets." Might I add that my original post was full of hyperlinks, but of course, the version in print ignores them, as does the version online. (More incredulity from NLG.)

Krogius on Jacobs

And what of Krogius's conclusion:
These various observations are interesting, but they turn a blind eye to the brilliance and complexity of the Gehry plan. Was it just too unexpected, too different, too challenging for so many in Brooklyn? It had greater diversity than Rockefeller Center. I think friend Alex Garvin ( respected planner) would likely agree that a near-empty place at such a confluence of public transit warrants a very high density development — precisely AY. As to having moved more quickly if subjected to the city’s ULURP process rather than a state-initiated community board reviews and public hearings, that’s highly questionable. Note also that I wrote last week that Jane Jacobs might have been “sensible enough to recognize that Atlanic Yards represents a well-nigh unique situation for which a high-rise solution requires no destruction of a viable neighborhood.”

While the complexity of the Gehry plan--trying to nestle an arena in a larger development--does signal a solution to the standalone arena, I don't think the Gehry plan for AY had greater diversity than Rockefeller Center, which had multiple architects and an architectural competition. Garvin's been pretty tough on AY, implicitly.

It's conclusory to state that a site at--actually at and near--such a confluence of public transit warrants the density of "precisely AY." The ULURP process is hardly a panacea, but even former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff said, in hindsight, the project should've gone through ULURP.

Would Jacobs have agreed that there would have been "no destruction of a viable neighborhood"? Yes, the site is on the northern fringe of Prospect Heights, with far fewer people and jobs to be displaced than in the time of Robert Moses, but the impact of the project on its neighbors likely would be profound.

Jacobs on stadiums

Most of the discussion of what Jacobs might say derives from our readings of her 1961 classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Lately, I've been reading her last book, Dark Age Ahead, published in 2004, but which provokes far less discussion.

On page 114, after criticizing leaders who scorn hospitals and transit systems as freeloaders if they can't directly pay their way, she wrote:
To be sure, neoconservative ideologues are selective in their social and economic choices for worthiness to survive and flourish. They subsidize professional sports stadiums, automotive assembly plants, roads, and other preferences, with tax breaks and other benefits.


So, whatever she thought of a mixed-use development by one developer and one architect emerging from an opaque planning process that closed streets--see Michael D. D. White's Jacobs scorecard--I think it's safe to say she would've looked askance at the city, state, and federal subsidies both granted and still pending for the arena.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the various writings and statements of Jane Jacobs as they might relate to the Atlantic Yards development, here are some thoughts:

    a) Norman wrote:

    Would Jacobs have agreed that there would have been "no destruction of a viable neighborhood"?

    Benjamin writes:

    It seems to me that the issue of the so-called "destruction of a viable neighborhood" is a false Jane Jacobs issue. For instance, as far as I know, Jacobs never had any criticism for what was the near total destruction of three midtown blocks (approximately 12 acres) for what would ultimately become Rockefeller Center.

    It seems to me that Jacobs' objections regarding "project planning," in general, and Robert Moses' projects, in particular, were that they 1) displaced residents and businesses via an improper use of eminent domain; 2) they weren't even economically sensible in the first place -- as they received enormous government subsidies (both explicit and hidden); and 2) such developments were, in fact, not only not helpful but actually harmful, to the health of cities. (I think this can be seen, in particular, in a number of chapters in "Death and Life of Great American Cities" and "Systems of Survival.")

    b) On the other hand, in addition to the subsidies that you mention, I think one of the objections to the Atlantic Yards development that is most consistent with Jacobs' various writings and statements is its inappropriate use of the power of eminent domain.

    c) I also think another big "Jane Jacobs objection" is that the development's false claims of economic development -- in Jacobs' eyes the development's commercial space (be it one building or many buildings) is just not TRUE economic development. TRUE economic development is what was happening on the site before Ratner proposed Atlantic Yards. (I think this can be seen, in particular, in various chapters of "The Economy of Cities.")

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