Skip to main content

Lessons from Hastings: no tradeoff between economics and environment; the need for reasoned argument; the goal of sustainable development

The legal and procedural battle behind Atlantic Yards is so fraught--did the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) really withhold the crucial Development Agreement until after oral argument in January regarding the project timetable?--that it's refreshing to see that some people believe in ideals.

A slate of three candidates in the suburban village of Hastings-on-Hudson was elected in March 2009 under the banner Hastings Forward, and a look at their web site (thanks to Google's cache but no longer available), pointed to an essay "Living Well in Our Landscape: Environmental Responsibility and Civic Community in Hastings," by Bruce Jennings.

(Why was I noodling around Hastings Forward? It was supported by Hastings resident Philip Karmel, the ESDC's lead outside lawyer in the Atlantic Yards cases.)

The highlights

Notably, Jennings argues that knotty issues "do not involve a choice between environmental conservation and economic development," since framing a trade-off wrongly "implies that economic development exists somehow in a vacuum unaffected by natural systems."

Rather than pit development against nature, he suggests that the issue is "responsible, careful development and economic improvement within the context of a sustainable relationship between human activity and natural system."

Moreover, a true forum "is not a shouting match, an occasion to assail one’s opponents" but "a space of civic imagination and reasoned, deliberative argument," he writes, suggesting that the result can be "adequately protective and sustainable modes of development."

Does that sound much like the ESDC process?

The essay
The responsible stewardship of our beautiful lower Hudson Valley landscape and the conservation of our open spaces and biodiversity are primary obligations of Hastings Village government. The Hastings Forward team — Peter Swiderski, Meg Walker and Bruce Jennings — is committed to this responsible stewardship as an intrinsic goal and as the touchstone for all the measures of good governance, economic improvement and enhanced quality of life for all of us in the years ahead. In this position paper I would like to address, not specific policies, but my orientation on two matters that are prior to policies, namely vision and community deliberation.

The outcome I would like to see in Hastings over the next few years of course includes specific initiatives and tangible accomplishments—such as beautiful trails, a restored quarry park, “green” requirements in our buildings, safer options for walkability. But I would also like to see, and will work hard to support, the revitalization among us of what I shall call ecological democratic citizenship and the creation of a civic community of conservation. I hope we can open a dialogue in the village and during the 2009 campaign about these goals. They are long-term and will force us to rethink how we conduct politics in the village, but they are so important to the future of our village — to the village our children will inherit.

In my view, we must understand that the issues looming large for Hastings—with our waterfront, with the zoning and planning of the remaining large tracts of private property, with the village comprehensive plan as a whole—do not involve a choice between environmental conservation and economic development. Framing this as a “choice” or a “trade off” implies that economic development exists somehow in a vacuum unaffected by natural systems. This is a misconception.

Human activity and natural systems
Natural systems are the foundation for all economic activity, and indeed all social activity. The question is not development versus nature, but responsible, careful development and economic improvement within the context of a sustainable relationship between human activity and natural systems.

Aldo Leopold, one of the great American conservationists, said that a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. When I was a young teacher in the 1970s, I thought that we were beginning to take seriously this notion of a “biotic community”—nature alive, not simply matter in motion; a biotic community of life and living of which human beings are inter-dependent members, not outsiders.

I remember the first Earth Day; I remember talking with my students and colleagues about the limits of growth, steady state, sustainability, the ecological conscience. And I remember exploring the argument that we could not relate properly to the biotic community without at the same time relating rightly to the social and political community. Living rightly in a biotic landscape, as Leopold would have us do, and living rightly in a moral commonwealth were inseparable. Ecological sanity and social justice go hand in hand.

Time to get back to work
Then, in approximately 1980, we as a people in the United States went to sleep morally, politically, imaginatively. (A hardy band of brave people living in Hastings at the time were an exception.) We are just now waking up.

It is time to get back to work; it is time to rejoin the conversation. The natural realities, constraints, and limits we were beginning to grasp thirty years ago have not gone away. No, on the contrary, they have become more pressing, and we have even less justification now for ignoring them, thanks to the scientific work that has been done in the interval.

I am convinced that Hastings as a community has a golden opportunity to become a leading, progressive forum for nurturing these new ways of seeing, feeling, and thinking, for ourselves and our children.

A true 'forum' is not a shouting match
I use the term “forum” advisedly. The kind of forum we should seek is not a shouting match, an occasion to assail one’s opponents, or a sounding board for cynicism, suspicion, and speculation not supported by evidence or facts. Public meetings where that happens are all to easy and frequently achieved. A true forum for ecological democratic citizenship is much more difficult and valuable for any community. But we in Hastings can achieve it.

A true forum is a space of civic imagination and reasoned, deliberative argument. The voices heard there are pragmatic, not dogmatic. They are voices inspired by seriousness of purpose and openness to other perspectives and to new facts. They are voices that speak with urgency, yet are mindful of the complexity we face of the fallibility to which we are prone. Such forums are places where exacting thought is applied to the most serious and crucial of problems, but done in the spirit of camaraderie, mutual respect, care, and joy. Such forums are open and welcoming to all. They thrive on lively debate and constructive disagreement. They do not always require common answers (consensus), but they seek common questions, and they rely on common sense.

Elected officials can get things done
Environmental values and economic interests cannot be well-integrated in policy—in zoning laws or in comprehensive plans or in specific decisions about particular projects and sites—unless they are properly defined and assessed in the first instance. Ecological, scientific literacy and a discourse of civic values are essential to that task. Robust grassroots debate and mutual engagement can create the basis for an entirely new way of thinking and talking about these issues in a given community. The terms of old political animosities and stalemates can be loosened, rethought, and broken down. Pragmatic compromises and adequately protective and sustainable modes of development can be discerned. On this basis, elected officials in our village (and our region) can actually function as leaders that get things done, as builders of consensus and community, and as trustees of the public good.

It is toward this end that, if elected, Peter Swiderski, Meg Walker, and I will strive. Yes, in Hastings this can be done. (12/21/2008)

Comments

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…

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…

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…