Monday, November 14, 2011

The renaissance of Brooklyn? Credit Ratner, or the creative class?

Is Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner "the man chiefly responsible for the renaissance of Brooklyn," as Brett Yormark, the relentlessly promotional CEO of the New Jersey Nets, introduced him at the 9/26/11 media event featuring Jay-Z?

Of course not. Not even ubiquitous environmental consultant AKRF tried to say that, even though it did offer a very selective history for the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

And, a city official suggested last week, credit goes to the creative class. (I don't disagree, but I think it's more complicated.)

Urban renewal vs. private investment

As I wrote 8/21/06, AKRF emphasized governmental investment in urban renewal, including condemnation, without acknowledging the parallel process in Brownstone Brooklyn of mostly private reinvestment and revival via historic preservation, which was hastened by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, beginning in the 1960s.

Ratner was responsible, in tandem with city and state support, for the transformation of once-industrial and lower-value Downtown Brooklyn blocks into the back office complex MetroTech, beginning in the late 1980s. Ditto for the later transformation of urban renewal land into the Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls, the former more suburban-style than the latter.

Private residential investment, coupled with safer streets, fueled an increasing desire to live in Brooklyn's row house neighborhoods. And yes, Downtown Brooklyn later was transformed.

But maybe there's been an even bigger factor.

The creative class

At the housing conference November 7 titled "Making Room," sponsored by the Citizens Housing and Planning Council and The Architectural League of New York, city Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin discussed the importance of housing creative people that fuel the city's fastest-growing industry: tourism.

“I would go farther and say I think the most exciting story to come out of the city of New York really in the last 20 years in terms of urbanism is the re-emergence of the borough of Brooklyn as the place where people want to live and to be, and that's also been done on the backs of our creative sector.”

I think there are multiple factors, including the one Levin stressed,

Couple that with the memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers and other iconography, and "Brooklyn" is a wonderful, malleable thing for Yormark to sell.

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