Skip to main content

The Civilians' In the Footprint debuts tomorrow; post-show discussions planned for many performances; who directed the background "theater"?

The investigative theater troupe The Civilians, following up its preliminary 2008 piece on Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn at Eye Level (my review), tomorrow debuts IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards.

The play with music will be performed at the Irondale Center in Fort Greene from November 12 through December 11. It's written and directed by Steven Cosson, co-written by Jocelyn Clarke, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.

The blurb:
In the Footprint, a new play with music, tells the story of Brooklyn's largest development project in history. The play examines the conflicts that erupted in the case of Atlantic Yards through to their current resolution in an attempt to discover how the fate of the city is decided in present-day New York and what can be learned from this ongoing saga of politics, money, and the places we call home. The play is constructed from interviews with real life players in this Brooklyn epic, including local residents, business owners, Daniel Goldstein, political leaders such as Letitia James and Marty Markowitz, activists, union members, and community leaders.
The discussions

The web site promises a post-show discussion series "about the real-life issues from the play related to the Atlantic Yards development and our changing community."

November 16 at 8PM: Conversation with the Artists
November 18 at 8PM: Conversation with the Artists
November 20 at 2PM: Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee
November 23 at 8PM: Conversation with the Artists
November 29 at 7PM: Brad Lander, New York City Council Member
November 30 at 8PM: Stephen Levin, New York City Council Member
December 2 at 8PM: Tom Angotti, Professor of Urban Studies & Planning at Hunter College
December 4 at 2PM: Daniel Goldstein, Co-founder of DDDB and last resident to leave The Footprint
December 6 at 7PM: Conversation with the Artists
December 7 at 8PM: Letitia James , New York City Council Member (Invited)
December 9 at 8PM: Stacey Sutton, Urban Planning Professor at Columbia's Architecture Grad Dept.

Most of those leading discussions, excepting the artists, are opponents or critics of Atlantic Yards, though Council Member Levin, whose base until very recently was Bushwick and Ridgewood, has been a mild supporter while expressing concern.

It would be interesting, to say the least, to see someone from Brooklyn United for Innovative Urban Development (BUILD) or another Community Benefits Agreement signatory leading the discussion.

In the Times: dramatizing discord

A New York Times feature article on the show yesterday, headlined In Brooklyn, Dramatizing Real Discord, offers this back story:
“Being an investigative theater company where we try to engage in important stories, this seemed like the most important local story that we could take on,” Mr. Cosson said recently over brunch in a cafe in Fort Greene. When he first conceived the show, he was living in Prospect Heights, near what is now the Atlantic Yards footprint, and followed the battle avidly, as anti-Ratner fliers began appearing in his neighbors’ windows. In 2007 the Civilians received a $150,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to develop “In the Footprint”; at the time it was the biggest donation the group had been awarded. (It has since received $700,000 from the National Science Foundation for a play about climate change.)

“There’s not a lot of other companies like them,” said Eddie Torres, associate director for the Rockefeller Foundation. What he likes about their endeavor was not just the subject but also the method: talking to all sides, and perhaps getting them to talk to one another. “They’re at the forefront of a process that’s becoming more common now, in both the visual art world and the performing art world,” he said, “artists who are doing a lot of first-person engagement.”
Well, there's surely a value to "talking to all sides," but there's also a danger in letting the Atlantic Yards story turn into a debate about Brooklyn authenticity or even race and class.

After all, as I wrote yesterday, the key to understanding Atlantic Yards is less about analyzing discord among opposing citizens than the balance between private power and the public interest.

Race and class

The Times reports:
Mr. Friedman and Mr. Cosson said they were opposed to the Atlantic Yards project from the beginning, but their six cast members were not all so sure. “I was really indifferent,” said Billy Eugene Jones, a recently anointed Civilian who lives in Fort Greene. “I just never thought it would happen. I thought it would go away, and it didn’t.”

In doing interviews, Mr. Jones, one of three black cast members, felt the reverberations of the issue’s racial divide. “I was conflicted,” he said. “Develop Don’t Destroy was saying this is a bad idea for your neighborhood, and the side of people who look like me were saying, ‘We need jobs, we need this to happen, I like basketball, get out of the way, we want this.’

“It’s not about race — not at all, to me,” he added. “It is about money and class.” But, he said, “the black people who were speaking for anti-arena were very quiet when I would speak to them. They didn’t want to ruffle any feathers with the black community.”
It's not easy to suss out public opinion, actually. Polls can be gamed, as I've written.

The loudest supporters for the project, from (mainly white) construction workers to (mainly black) advocates for job training and subsidized housing, all have something significant to gain. No wonder they've been loud enough for Jones to become conflicted.

Concerns about jobs and housing are real, which makes the Atlantic Yards conflict so painful, but concerns should be tested, recognizing the balance between private power and the public interest.

Should some BUILD members be asked now, they might be wondering whether Forest City Ratner's promises of jobs really were legitimate. After all, the Daily News last month pointed out discrepancies between the current and predicted number of jobs.


The importance of listening and the real "director"

Last night, at the Municipal Art Society's Jane Jacobs Forum, on The Walkable (& Rollable) City: Transportation, Health & Delight, Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director, UPROSE (Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization in Sunset Park) told an instructive story about an incident she witnessed in Fort Greene, at the Myrtle Avenue salon where she gets her nails done.

As Yeampierre told it: "Two white women started talking about new bike path. They said Isn't it great... Two elderly black women said Who said we wanted that?... The white women said This is good for you... The black women said Who are you to tell us it's good for us?... This was a real fight... People getting infrastructure they wanted and people who had been there a real long time that no one had talked to."

Had there been a meeting earlier to address community priorities, she suggested, "then that fight would never have broken out."

With Atlantic Yards, nobody thought to market a valuable piece of public property, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard. At the same time, genuine needs for jobs and housing were not taken seriously enough.

The conflict has been epic theater, but the director--in the grand scheme of things--has been more Forest City Ratner than anyone in charge of the public interest.

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…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

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…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …