Skip to main content

Missing from the New Yorker's Bloomberg profile: public authorities and the real story of Atlantic Yards

A profile in this week's New Yorker, clocking in at more than ten thousand words, is headlined The Untouchable: Can a good mayor amass too much power?, and presents this tension:
Thanks to his money, Bloomberg has managed, perhaps more than any democratic politician ever before, to govern strictly with what he considers to be the greater good in mind. And, thanks to his money, the counterargument goes, he has essentially corrupted the system itself.

Is it always the greater good? In other words, should the Mayor be seen, at worst, as using questionable means for good ends, or do questionable means lead to questionable ends?

I think Bloomberg's record is mixed, but on Atlantic Yards and development issues, he's vulnerable to much criticism. So Ben McGrath's New Yorker profile, while reasonably thorough and hardly a valentine, could've been much tougher.

Notably, had McGrath waited until this week to write, he would've learned that Bloomberg is the prime culprit in an effort to stall reform of public authorities, as Assemblyman Richard Brodsky pointed out yesterday.

And if he'd dug further, he would've concluded that Bloomberg's appointees on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board provided the crucial, but dubious, justification in June for revising the Vanderbilt Yard deal with Forest City Ratner.

Bloomberg as Moses?

McGrath writes:
Bloomberg took office during a recession, and quickly established himself as a bold and decisive fiscal manager, ultimately demonstrating, as his friend Mitchell Moss, an urban-planning professor at N.Y.U., says, that New York was “open for business after 9/11.” As the economy recovered, Bloomberg set about trying to transform the city, on a scale not seen since the days of Robert Moses. “I think if you look, we’ve done more in the last seven years than—I don’t know if it’s fair to say more than Moses did, but I hope history will show the things we did made a lot more sense,” Bloomberg told me. “You know, Moses did some things that turned out not to be great: cutting us off from the waterfront, putting roads all along the water.” The Bloomberg model, under the direction of Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Amanda Burden, the City Planning Commissioner, was based to a large extent on undoing the Moses legacy: rezoning for commercial and residential use large tracts of waterfront property that had once been the province of industry.

Grand projects in New York had long been believed to be unfeasible; the costs up front were too high, and the red tape too thick. (The Second Avenue subway has been in turnaround since 1929.) Urban planning was strictly an academic discipline, and development proceeded on a piecemeal basis. Doctoroff, who as an investment banker in the mid-nineties had dreamed of bringing the 2012 Summer Olympics to the city, persuaded Bloomberg to enable supersized, centrally planned mixed-use projects that would essentially create new neighborhoods from scratch: in downtown Brooklyn, in Hunts Point, on the far West Side of Manhattan.


There was no neighborhood from scratch to be created in Downtown Brooklyn; rather, there was a rezoning aimed to increase office space--to extend a business neighborhood--that wound up bringing condos to Flatbush Avenue--a new skyline but not quite a neighborhood.

As for the Robert Moses comparison, remember how Doctoroff in February 2007 demurred from claiming the mantle, and was challenged forcefully by South Bronx activist Majora Carter. And remember how Bloomberg defender Moss was challenged on WNYC in December 2007.

The AY omission

Also note that, were Bloomberg truly proud of Atlantic Yards, he would have mentioned it--and the baseball stadiums--on his campaign web site and in PlaNYC 2030 materials.

The Bloomberg revision and AY in Downtown Brooklyn

McGrath notes that the West Side Stadium and the Olympics never came about:
Cataclysmic events like September 11th and the current global financial crisis have a way of occasioning revisionist thinking, and in the early months of this year, after the shock of the prospective third term had subsided, a more skeptical narrative of the Bloomberg mayoralty began to surface, in which he appeared less like Batman and more like a beneficiary of larger social and economic forces.

...The re-assessors rattle off similar lists of unfulfilled projects to imply that the verdict on grand-scale transformation is far from certain. The World Trade Center remains unbuilt, the conversion of the old Post Office on Eighth Avenue into a new Penn Station—Moynihan Station—is stalled, and the real-estate giant the Related Companies has had to postpone financing for the Hudson Yards project on the West Side, where the stadium was to have gone. If Atlantic Yards, a proposed remaking of downtown Brooklyn centered on the relocation of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, ever proceeds, it will be greatly diminished, and without the participation of Frank Gehry, whose involvement was originally used as a selling point. The rezonings, which amount to an impressive one-sixth of the city’s total land area, await the next boom cycle, but their primary imprint on the skyline, thus far, can be seen in luxury condominium towers and garish McMansion co-ops in Brooklyn and Queens that now seem emblematic of an unrealistic age when Wall Street money accounted for thirty-five per cent of the city’s earnings.


No, Atlantic Yards wouldn't remake Downtown Brooklyn, it would extend Downtown Brooklyn into Prospect Heights.

A deeper focus on Atlantic Yards might have put the mayor's reign in more perspective.

Comments

  1. I haven't had time to read the entire Ben McGrath article, but from what I've seen so far the following seems to make no sense:

    "The Bloomberg model . . . was based to a large extent on undoing the Moses legacy: rezoning for commercial and residential use large tracts of waterfront property that had once been the province of industry."

    Aside from the question of whether the Bloomberg rezonings are a good idea or not, Moses (as far as I know) had nothing to do with the original zoning of NYC's waterfront for industrial uses.

    Furthermore, as can be seen from the essays associated with the Moses exhibits and from the Joel Schwartz book, the "New York Approach," that was a major source of info, one of Moses' biggest "achievements" was actually to destroy large amounts of NYC's industrial land for "tower-in-the-park" (I call them "tower-in-a-lot") housing projects, highways, parks and large civic centers. For instance, lots of downtown Brooklyn that was once commercial / industrial was torn down for things like middle income housing, civic structures and Cadman Plaza.

    So, Bloomberg et al. are not undoing the Moses legacy, in this regard, but building upon it and extending it.

    7:31 p.m., Mon., 8/17/09

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…