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The Future of Fourth Avenue, Atlantic Yards traffic, and the lessons of top-down planning

I only attended part of last month's The Future of Fourth Avenue Forum sponsored by the Park Slope Civic Council (PSCC), so I missed the tangential discussion of Atlantic Yards.

In the PSCC's Civic News, Ezra Goldstein reports:
[The Department of City Planning's Purnima] Kapur came under mild fire later in the forum, when several audience members asked why the city had not mandated storefronts as part of 4th Avenue’s upzoning. Kapur responded that the city had offered incentives encouraging storefronts instead of blank walls or worse—the street level garage vents at the Crest, at the corner of 2nd Street, have become the poster child for callous development—but that it was not normally city policy to make such demands of builders. Shouts of “Why not?” could be heard from several places around the crowded room.

In answer to that question, 39th District City Council Member Brad Lander, who spoke briefly at the end of the forum, pointed out that the way things have been done in the past is not necessarily the way they need to be done in the future. Policy can be changed, he said.

He cautioned, however, “It is easy to come up with good ideas, but harder to organize and build a broad base of support.” If people take that next step, he said, “I would love to work with an active community group on the future of 4th Avenue.”

Lander was echoing a sentiment that pervaded the forum: not only that changing 4th Avenue will require getting organized from the ground up, but that it’s better to do things that way. That sentiment extended very much to the Atlantic Yards project, whose impending presence at 4th Avenue’s northern terminus came up in several questions from the audience.

Atlantic Yards is widely seen as a throwback to the top-down planning of 50 years ago and as the antithesis to the kind of community-based planning espoused at the forum. Lander and [Community Board 6 District Manager Craig] Hammerman both argued, however, that if the battle against the project is indeed lost, there is still much that a well-organized community can do to mitigate its worst effects. Atlantic Yards, for example, would be an impetus for even more traffic along 4th Avenue, increasing the difficulty of its transformation from thruway to livable street.

“The key,” said Hammerman, “is to make sure that we are a strong community that can stand together.”

It won’t be easy getting organized, getting political, building a community. After Atlantic Yards, it won’t be easy convincing some people that it’s worth the effort, that the grassroots stand a chance against the powerful and connected. But there was inspiration in the air at the forum on the future of 4th Avenue, and a definite sense that an important step had been taken toward the transformation of our neighborhood’s troubled roadway into something worthy of our love.
More coverage

Also see PSCC Trustee Michael Cairl's commentary, noting changes already made and the role of NYU graduate students in upcoming planning efforts.

Also see reports from Streetsblog, questioning Kapur's explanation for the lack of retail; the Brooklyn Paper, focusing on the need to slow cars down; and the Courier-Life, with a summary of highlights.

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