Sunday, January 01, 2012

Crain's points to Atlantic Yards as symbol of Brooklyn's bifurcated blooming, but misses the irony of unfulfilled promises

In an article destined for the 1/2/12 issue, Crain's New York Business offers Brooklyn blooms again, but not for all: Atlantic Yards project caps a decade of growth for borough, yet some areas remain mired in poverty. The lead-off:
When the roar of 18,000 Brooklyn Nets fans rocks the Barclays Center to life this fall, some will hear it as the clearest announcement yet that Brooklyn has arrived.

As Borough President Marty Markowitz put it, the sparkling new arena near downtown Brooklyn “will host the kind of events you used to have to leave Brooklyn to enjoy.”

To proponents, the Nets' arena at Atlantic Yards is the exclamation point of the Brooklyn Renaissance—a flourishing of creativity, construction and coolness over the last decade.

But critics note that Brooklyn's economic gains have occurred predominantly in the northwest corner of the borough, where the Atlantic Yards development is situated. The neighborhoods in the central and eastern parts of the borough remain poor, and Brooklyn's overall poverty and unemployment rates outstrip the citywide numbers.
There's a huge, unmentioned irony here: Atlantic Yards may be a symbol of Brooklyn's progress, but, employing relatively few locals, has not delivered the jobs and housing promised, nor proven a good investment of public dollars.

What's at fault?

Alan Fishman, chairman of Ladder Capital Finance, a commercial real estate specialty finance company--and, unmentioned, boards like the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership--blamed lack of job-readiness in a Brooklyn work force with low education.

James Parrott, the Fiscal Policy Institute's chief economist, blamed "an economy that doesn't create nearly enough decent employment opportunities."

Parrott's right that, as Crain's puts it, "Brooklyn's largest industries—health care and social assistance, retail, and food services—employ many local residents at low wages." And Fishman's right that the current economy rewards those who are better-educated and better-trained.

That's because Brooklyn, and New York, have lost a whole lot of well-paying blue-collar manufacturing jobs and, as with many other places, no one's figured out how to ensure a good quantity of well-paying blue-collar jobs.

A gloomy future

The article concludes:
Just as there is no consensus on the root of Brooklyn's economic inequities, there is no concerted effort to address them. Instead, city planners and private developers tinker with economic issues on a project-by-project basis.

“There hasn't been, to my knowledge, a really comprehensive plan done under the auspices of any government agency,” said Brooklyn Economic Development Corp. President Joan Bartolomeo.
Maybe one could start by assessing whether the money spent on Atlantic Yards helped narrow Brooklyn's economic inequities.

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