Friday, November 25, 2011

"Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown": Atlantic Yards indifference and buying the future

When I was working on the lecture I gave last August at Galapagos, I tried to come up with line to nudge those who think Atlantic Yards. is too complicated, or not worth attention because little can be done. ("Issue fatigue," as Capital New York's Tom McGeveran wrote recently.)

It wasn't original of, course, but it was resonant: "Forget it Jake, it's Atlantic Yards."

(I'd gotten the line from a friend, but a little searching sends me back to previous use by Michael D. D. White' in hiw Noticing New York, which also cited New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman's use of the term.)

Fortunately, a good number of people won't forget. So much for Mayor Mike Bloomberg's assertion, at the March 2010 arena groundbreaking, that "No one's going to remember how long it took, they're only going to see that it was done."

The source of the line

That phrase echoes that classic line from the ending of Roman Polanski's 1974 movie Chinatown, concerning water rights, real estate, and nefarious doings around Los Angeles.

As Douglas Herman, on Rense.com, describes it:
After Evelyn is shot, in the movie Chinatown, [private investigator] Jake [Gittes] tries to intervene, tries to right the wrongs, save the innocent, bring the perpetrators to justice. A colleague grabs Jake and drags him away: "Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown ." As the credits roll, you cannot help but become cynical or sullen. Rarely does real life offer a happy Hollywood ending.
Buying the future

Herman also cites a key scene.

Private investigator Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, queries greedy businessman Noah Cross, portrayed by John Huston.

JG: I just want to know what you're worth. Over ten million?

NC: Oh my, yes.

JGs: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can't already afford?

NC: The future, Mr. Gittes, the future.

What do you think Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov say to themselves?

The role of memory


White wrote of the effort to overturn term limits:
[City Council Speaker Christine] Quinn and [Mayor Mike] Bloomberg and certainly a cohort among the City Council members are apparently expecting that fading memories will limit the reputational price they have to pay for their conduct.
Maybe, maybe not. White made another resonant observation:
Life can be surprisingly like the movies. A nagging, noirish sense of disquiet telling you that things are not right can cause you to keep circling back to revisit clues for what they really mean.
Looking back at the clues

Let's see, for example, if Forest City Ratner really does build the first Atlantic Yards tower via modular construction, as most news outlets reported without caveat after the developer's strategic announcement last week.

Given the developer's hedging--and the failure to announce financing, a union deal, or a factory location--I'd bet that the release was strategized to deflect any lingering attention from the lawsuit filed two days earlier by would-be project workers, and to put pressure on construction unions.

Maybe there will be a modular process going by early next year. But if there's not, we can look back at that "nagging, noirish sense of disquiet."

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