Skip to main content

Atlantic Yards, the CBA, and "racialized discourse"

So, Atlantic Yards has been analyzed through many lenses, but environmental justice is a new one. This spring, an article published in the Journal of Sport & Social Issues bore the title Sports and Environmental Justice: "Games" of Race, Place, Nostalgia, and Power in Neoliberal New York City and, while jargon-heavy, it offers some insights, notably that "the developer co-opted the racialized discourse of social movements for economic, environmental, and social justice."

The author is University of California Davis American Studies professor Julie Sze, a former Brooklynite and author of Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice. She relied significantly on AY critics such as Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), urban planning professor Tom Angotti, and the film Brooklyn Matters.

Sze's book concerns the impacts of polluting facilities and while an arena is not a waste transfer station, there are similarities in the development battles. The irony is that some of those who might be expected to resist the imposition on the community of an arena do not do so, because they have partnered with the developer or been co-opted.

The CBA debate

Well, what does this mean in reality? At a 6/30/04 community meeting captured for the Battle of Brooklyn documentary-in-process (donations welcome), then-Assemblyman Roger Green contends that negotiating with the developer will bring more fruits to the community than in previous development debates.

"This is a fixed poker game," responds Jim Vogel of the (yet to be formed) Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods.

"What is this Community Benefit Agreement if not a tool to divide the community," declares Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.

Some question the lack of a democratic process. "They got a democratically-elected governor, a democratically-elected mayor, and a democratically-elected borough president to try to push this thing through," Green responds. (Unmentioned is the bypass of the City Council; City Council Member Letitia James is at the meeting but not quoted in the segment.)

"Architecture of neoliberalism"

Sze's no fan of AY:
The Atlantic Yards project privatizes public and open space, promotes free-market development (while heavily dependent on state subsidies and public money), and symbolically promotes the architecture of neoliberalism.
The architecture of neoliberalism? Well, neoliberalism, as seen by left-wing scholars (like David Harvey) and activists, implies a lesser role for the state and a reliance on the private sector.

Sports, race, and class

The money quote:

In particular, the developer’s mobilization of the discourse of the environmental justice movement is significant and raises important issues about how corporate actors in neoliberal New York City use sports, race, class, and the environment in deeply troubling and fascinating ways.
A fourth face of power: "racialized discourse"

Sze notes that one scholar discerned "three faces of power in stadium siting disputes":
  • the public and institutional face of those in charge
  • the barriers that keep certain groups out of the discourse
  • and subordinate groups who accept their powerlessness
Sze argues that the AY dispute "reveals a fourth hidden face of power." She writes:

Specifically, in this campaign, the developer co-opted the racialized discourse of social movements for economic, environmental, and social justice, and in doing so, highlighted long-standing class divisions within African American communities in Brooklyn within the context of gentrification trends and antigentrification activism. The developer made alliances with fair housing and labor groups, who focused on the racial benefits of their alliance with the corporate developer, to refute the opposition to the project and control the racial discourse around the project.
The analysis

By focusing on some of the early public discourse, I think Sze misses part of the story. She cites a campaign to “Bring the Nets Home to Brooklyn,” which ties to the loss of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the "proposed (and ultimately rejected)" site for a new Ebbets Field.

While the Dodgers aimed to move across the street, it's also important to note that the developer changed the discourse to emphasize a more pressing issue for many Brooklynites: affordable housing.

Sze argues that this development differs from others in New York City because of "its dependence on basketball to make the case," citing arena critic Bob Law from Brooklyn Matters. Again, however, Forest City Ratner has changed its rhetoric.

The discourse

While I doubt they did so in the name of environmental justice, several people--as Sze suggests--raised "environmental justice topics, issues, and symbols" during the 8/23/06 public hearing held by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). City Council Member Letitia (not Leticia) James referred to a seven-year-old girl who had died of asthma, and got booed by project supporters.

Project supporter Darnell Canada, warned, in words more ominous than Sze portrays, “You all talking ‘bout save the environment, better save yourself. Better make sure this process go through, cause I’m telling you if it don’t, you the victim."

Who's the winner?

Sze offers a cogent analysis of how the developer has distracted the public:

Although the primary beneficiary of the project is Ratner, the developer rhetorically, symbolically, and pragmatically widened the “we” to include labor and housing groups through the Community Benefits Agreement [CBA], and the “public” and borough writ large, with the focus on sports (the Nets) and recreation (“Urban Room” and green space). Thus, the public hearing was a performance of Ratner’s proxies.
So have a lot of public hearings; also note that Forest City Ratner did not offer its own representatives, just CBA representatives, to speak to the press at the October 14 eminent domain hearing.

And, I'd add, by saving more than $100 million with the MTA, and getting other concessions from the ESDC, the developer has had a lot more money to spread around.

A solution?

Sze suggests that there are exceptions to the race/class divide:

For example, activist groups like Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), which has organized against the Downtown Brooklyn plan since 2003, also uses a racialized (and gendered) framework as the basis for their analysis. But where Holt and Canada use the racial discourse of Black rage at gentrification to exploit class differences (and to render invisible their own co-optation by the developer), FUREE uses their racialized analysis to encompass other non-Black working people under its umbrella. Although they have not focused specifically on Atlantic Yards, their focus on multiracial communities of color, particularly women of color, reveals how an intersectional race- and class-sensitive analysis of urban development can avoid the co-optation in the Atlantic Yards case.
I'm not sure what to make of that. Could FUREE have more effectively opposed AY than Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB)? I doubt that.

Could DDDB have done better at outreach? Yes, DDDB's Daniel Goldstein acknowledges that the opposition could be more diverse, but, then again, the CBA signatories have never held a public meeting. Should DDDB have spent some money not on lawyers but community organizers? Tough question.


Sze suggests that

environmental justice scholars and scholars of stadium siting need to be particularly sensitive to how complex and competing factors shape contemporary stadium development, including race and class stratification (and how they sometimes conflict), and the interplay of the past and the present.
Um, yes.


Popular posts from this blog

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…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.