Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blight? Perceived problems with teens prompts unusually draconian Forest City Ratner policy (that is also over-enforced) at Atlantic Terminal Mall

Oh, remember the Blight Study conducted for the Empire State Development Corporation that concluded that "the relatively low number of crimes reported at the shopping centers indicates that the high crime rate in sector 88E is more likely a result of crimes occurring on the project site than in Atlantic Center or Atlantic Terminal"?

I wrote in March 2009 that that was bogus, and a continuing stream of crime reports from those malls confirms that.

And there has been at least one major incident at the Atlantic Terminal mall, last November, when large numbers of teens--drawn by an “unauthorized flier being circulated on social networking sites,” according to a Buffalo Wild Wings executive--gathered at the mall and were forced to disperse, with two people being shot.

Cracking down

However, instead of having the malls declared blighted, mall owner Forest City Ratner (the Atlantic Yards developer) is cracking down with enforcement. The New York Times reports, in an article headlined Brooklyn Malls Try to Limit Youth Loitering:
Groups of four or more people under 21 years old and unaccompanied by a parent are not allowed to linger, lest they become a large unruly group or even an impromptu gathering known as a flash mob.

Students said they had noticed a zestful enforcement of the policy since the school year began.

Such a sweeping restriction is rare. Mall operators are increasingly writing plans known as “parental escort policies” to rein in teenagers at specific times, usually on weekend nights. Of the 1,418 malls in the United States, 66 now practice some form of constraining youthful visitors, up from 39 in 2007, said Jesse Tron of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

In Brooklyn, the policy is unusual: it technically restricts access at all times, though, as a practical matter, the enforcement is heavier at some hours.

...Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center, an adjacent mall owned by the same company, make up 900,000 square feet of stores erected over an underground rail hub. The problems with teenagers are in Atlantic Terminal, built in 2004, which has the kind of public spaces where people like to linger
(The article, interestingly enough, seems to have been generated by comments on a Brooklyn Technical High School forum, which then were mentioned in the Times blog The Local.)

The Atlantic Center Mall back story


Unmentioned is what other mall lacks such spaces. Recall a 5/26/04 Times article, headlined Different by Design, Soon to Be Less So; Rethinking Atlantic Center With the Customer in Mind:
The isolation of stores and lack of gathering locations inside the building was intentional, said its developer, Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner, driven by the needs of skittish national retailers and the notion that urban malls had failed because they became magnets for loitering teenagers who frightened the shoppers away.

“It’s a problem of malls in dense urban areas that kids hang out there, and it’s not too positive for shopping,” Mr. Ratner said. “Look, here you’re in an urban area, you’re next to projects, you’ve got tough kids.”
FCR caught in contradictions

The Times, which did not mention the developer's business relationship with the New York Times Company in building the Times Tower, today clearly caught the developer in some contradictions--or, perhaps, lies:
Joe DePlasco, another spokesman for the mall’s operator, said the mall wanted young people to shop there. But in an effort to keep things safe and pleasant, the mall employs about 20 guards who approach young groups of four or more when they enter. The guards give them the option of splitting into smaller groups or leaving. The guards are “not instructed” to ask for ID, Mr. DePlasco said. The security is in full effect when school years are beginning and ending, and at the end of each school day, he said. The policy is also enforced more vigorously around holidays, he said.

On Thursday, however, just after 3 p.m., some guards at the Atlantic Terminal entrances asked for ID and then turned teenagers away, even some in groups of less than four. Stephanie Cineus, 15, a junior at a nearby high school, tried to get in with a friend, but both were barred from entering.

Other groups of students were seen being turned away on Friday, too, though some students walked freely in.
(Emphases added)

Local outreach?

The Times also found that Forest City overstated the amount of outreach it conducted:
Mr. DePlasco said mall officials had met with schools and community groups. But Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the area, said Forest City Ratner had not contacted her about the policy, and John Dew, chairman of Community Board 2, said he had not heard about the restrictions.

“I think there’s better ways to address the security issue besides just closing their doors,” Ms. James said, adding that the restrictions raised questions of legality and discrimination.

It's understandable (thought not appropriate) why Forest City Ratner might steer clear of James, who's been a political opponent regarding Atlantic Yards. But Community Board 2 is a broad-based organization, and should be the first to know.

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