Skip to main content

MAS Summit: Bloomberg administration's Jacobsian efforts are highlighted, but embrace of "cataclysmic projects" shouldn't be ignored

While the big news at the Municipal Art Society's (MAS) Summit for New York City October 21-22 concerned the livability survey commissioned by the MAS, there was much more worthy of discussion, and I'll address some of those issues this week.

Notably, one moment crystallized the ongoing tensions--as provoked earlier in the week by the Jane Jacobs Medals celebration--between the Bloomberg administration's worthy, Jacobsian efforts, and its less defensible affection for megaprojects.


Author and Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz spoke on a panel titled Vibrant Neighborhoods.

"I think it's wonderful that members of the Bloomberg administration thought this summit important enough to appear here to catalog the wonderful things agencies are doing to make the city more livable," she said, a reference to Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin, Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who spoke at the event, along with Deputy Mayor Patti Harris.

(Also making presentations were Leslie Koch and Regina Myer, who lead the city-controlled organizations that run Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park, respectively.)

Jacobsian efforts

"What is interesting is many of these things are not what we hear most about," Gratz said. "They are creative initiatives, spread in small doses, very Jacobsian, not the big cataclysmic projects that we hear most about that are not the creators of a livable city."

"Real economic development has nothing to do with real estate, and this is something Jane taught us in The Economy of Cities," Gratz said. "Economic development is an activity that comes first. The buildings to house it comes second. Jane used to say you cannot build the ovens and expect the loaves to jump in. What we've been hearing about, and talking about, are the loaves. That's why it's been such a stimulating discussion."

Listening to the people

In reference to the panel topic, Gratz recalled a visit to a "tower in the park classic public housing project, in East Harlem." While there was much green grass, residents were blocked by fences from using it.

"Why can't we tear down the fences?" Gratz asked. "If we want to honor the memory of what Jane stood for, the city, or MAS, could survey the people of just one tower in park housing projects, ask them what they want to see, then take down the fences and make that happen."

"I tell you the public housing story, because Jane very importantly in the introduction to [The] Death and Life [of Great American Cities], wrote about learning from people on the ground," she said.

What Jacobs stood for

"I also feel compelled to dispel some myths of what Jane stood for. Jane's observation and philosophy are useful only if not misunderstood," said Gratz, echoing some of the themes in her recent book, The Battle for Gotham.

No, Jacobs didn't favor only small-scale buildings, nor said only old buildings have value, nor opposed all big projects. "Too many people make the mistake of defining her observations of Greenwich Village as advocacy for preservation of the urban village," Gratz said. "The Village was her laboratory to observe larger truths about urban life."

Jacobs vs. developers

These days Jacobsian principles have "become conventional wisdom among planners" and also embraced, at least in rhetoric, by developers. "No developer can ever develop a large-scale project or so-called new community based on Jacobs' principles," she warned. "This is an oxymoron."

(In his Noticing New York blog, Michael D.D. White has tested Atlantic Yards against Jacobsian principles, and found it wanting on many fronts.)

"The first and overarching Jacobs idea is that cities and their neighborhoods, in total contrast to suburbs and overscaled new developments, must evolve, grow and change organically, and must emerge from efforts of many doers," Gratz said. "There is nothing organic from a highly developed, highly planned development, with one owner."

Moreover, she said, "plenty of big projects are getting done," citing infrastructure projects regarding water supply and mass transit. And, she added, "let's face it, many big projects deserve to be defeated."

Learning from Jacobs

She observed that the two winners this year of the Jane Jacobs Medal for new activism, Friends of the High Line founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond, came to activism through different paths.

David had read Jacobs' work, but Hammond had not. (He had, however, read Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about Robert Moses.)

"Jane would've loved the fact that he did what he did having never ever heard of her," suggested Gratz, a longtime Jacobs friend. "Jane believed that the citizen observer, the citizen doer, was the expert of the city."

"Josh was a Jacobs fan, Robert was Jacobs ignorant," she observed, and they "made a marvelous match."

Comments

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…