Monday, February 25, 2013

A Daily News essay claiming "Park Slope was wrong about Barclays Center," the flaws in the logic, and the original skepticism discarded

See bottom for Scott Turner's response.

So, in the wake of a curiously reported New York Times article that declared arena-related problems "everyday irritants" came a conclusory op-ed in the Daily News yesterday, headlined The drunken hordes that never came: Park Slope was wrong about Barclays Center.

Louise Crawford, founder of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn (at this point more of a press release service than anything), has posted her original essay, declaring she was "very frustrated" with the editing.

(In the case of an essay, rather than reportage, isn't the solution to just pull the piece? The Daily News has long been an Atlantic Yards cheerleader, and one former reporter charged that the paper pulled her off the Atlantic Yards beat at Ratner's request.)

She noted:
I had nothing to do with the headline (The drunken hordes that never came) or the subtitle (Park Slope was wrong about Barclays Center), which, as you can imagine, really rankled me.
Indeed, her original essay contains more nuance and more criticism, but it still has fundamental analytical flaws. In both cases, she writes that, "During the planning stages for the 22-acre site, it was easy to feel apoplectic" about about developer Bruce Ratner's bypass of standard review procedures.

Hold on. However much the arena has caused fewer problems than feared, the reasons to protest the overall process remain, because 1) the whole project has hard been built and 2) the state and Forest City Ratner promised a decade-long buildout and lost a lawsuit that requires a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to evaluate the impacts of a 25-year buildout. ("Park Slope," in the form of community groups who were petitioners in two combined lawsuits, wasn't "wrong" about this.)

While Crawford originally wrote that opponents in Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn decried a plan "that lacked context and common sense," and listed several issues, including tax dollars, that was edited to:
They wanted to know how many jobs Ratner would bring, what plans he had for calming traffic, how many schools he would build. Most of all, they wanted him stopped.
Much more than that, they pointed to a series of sweetheart deals, including the use of eminent domain.

How Ratner won

Crawford originally wrote:
Ultimately, legal tactics using Eminent Domain won the day. The area, which has been gentrifying at a rapid pace, was dubiously deemed blighted and buildings were demolished, including Freddy’s, a beloved, historic bar, as well as a condo building, home of Daniel Goldstein, the Rosa Parks of the Atlantic Yards battle.
That was edited to:
Ratner won — with a little help from the courts and City Hall.
Just a little? How about $131 million to repay Ratner for properties he seemingly paid generously for, generating a front-page Daily News headline.

Local impacts

Crawford wrote:
And a funny thing has been happening in my beloved Park Slope: Locals have realized it wasn’t so bad to have a basketball arena in their midst, despite their opposition to the way it got there. Fears about noise, traffic, garbage and public urination have so far proved unwarranted.
The original:
Fears about noise, traffic, garbage and public urination proved unwarranted, though there are some problems and traffic on nearby Third Avenue has worsened and the rats are rampant.
Both are conclusory. Park Slope is a big place, and the arena has far more impacts on the North Slope--and pieces of other neighborhoods nearby--than Crawford's Third Street block. While there were specific concerns about the arena, the entire project--with 6430 apartments over 22 tight acres--is what generated the concern.

As Peter Krashes, who lives on Dean Street in Prospect Heights across from the arena parking lot and contributes to Atlantic Yards Watch, wrote me:
I would say first off that the arena has had very meaningful impacts on many people who live near the arena. Before the arena opened anxiety (arguably increased by a lack of trust in the State and the developer) led Brooklynites in far-flung neighborhoods to worry about impacts they were never really anticipated to experience. Numerous complaints about honking, illegal parking and idling have come from nearby (especially in Park Slope!) on Atlantic Yards Watch. Other complaints have been related to concert noise and disruptive behavior.
Second, the arena is not the only source of impacts with Atlantic Yards. Both the State’s own environmental monitor and a consultant hired by community groups documented numerous instances in which environmental commitments were broken, and residents adversely impacted in unanticipated ways, by contractors working on the the arena and railyard. Now that construction may last 25 years instead of the originally anticipated 10. And the arena is really only a piece of what is planned to be one of the most dense residential developments in the United States.
Finally, the controversy over Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards has always been about whether the State is choosing the best course for the public, or instead the best course for the for profit developer. In 2009 the State illegally re-approved the project by giving the developer 25 years instead of the original 10 to construct the project. In essence, the State gave FCRC control of 22 acres of the project site even though they were only able to show they were in a position to build the arena and (maybe) one other building. The State also allowed the developer to reduce (and put at a higher level of risk) the benefits of the project like open space, affordable housing and jobs by delaying the project’s construction as well as changing its construction method and sequence.
Brooklyn pride

Crawford wrote, as published:
We also learned that having a basketball team can actually create a sense of Brooklyn pride. Barclays has become a public square in a racially and economically stratified borough that often seems segregated. It is the one place in Brooklyn, other than the subway (or maybe the Cyclone), that actually feels integrated.
Her original cited "an integrated clientele," but both ignore Barclays--where attendees get wanded, backpacks are prohibited, and corporate logos are rampant--is integrated only for people who have dollars. Don't parks and libraries--public spaces that truly need public support--come first?

And if she means the Barclays Center plaza (given that her original acknowledged it was sponsored by the Daily News), that must acknowledge that there was supposed to be an office tower there, without which Atlantic Yards would not have been passed. Her original did cite a long quote from the Rev. Daniel Meeter as skeptical about the benefits, and "ephemeral emotional gains to individual fans."

Inspired programming?

Crawford wrote, as published:
And basketball aside, the programming at Barclays has been inspired. Hip hop ruled when Brooklyn native Jay-Z — who owns a tiny share of the Nets — performed a series of shows. My Baby Boomer friends, meanwhile, many of whom protested angrily against the project, were excited when Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen performed at the arena.
The original cited skepticism of Jay-Z from Mos Def and the $3,200 fine for noise (actually for Sensation, not Jay-Z). And she wondered, regarding the Baby Boomer programming, if "we were being pandered to."

Either way, if locals can become arena supporters because they can go see Dyland, then they weren't truly critiquing the project.

The symbolism
As published, Crawford wrote:
But we’re adapting. Like it or not, Brooklyn has a new cultural hub, a crossroads for an economically and racially diverse community to come together. And we’ve got a team that gives us all something to cheer about.
That's a Marty Markowitz karaoke. And while the published essay scoffed at fears of "rapacious corporate concerns turning Flatbush Ave. into yet another open-air mall," the original acknowledged:
The Barclay’s logo and other corporate signage is not only ugly but a reminder that corporations have control over our cities and that product placement has more power than the people who live right next door. It reminds me that even the borough of Brooklyn can be bought by corporate interests.
Some comments on the Daily News essay

Daniel Goldstein commented:
Louise,
"....many of whom protested angrily against the project, were excited when Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen performed at the arena."
Really? That seems rather dubious. Had your "baby boomer friends" known that aging pop stars would have played in a major city's arena they wouldn't have angrily protested? What were they angrily protesting? Because the fundamental problems and abuses of the project still exist and can't ever be rectified (see: demolition of a neighborhood by eminent domain and the biggest single-developer project in NYC history approved without a single vote by an elected official).
It is also shameful that in this article you fail to mention that the promise of 2,250 units of affordable housing has failed, miserably, to materialize.
as for impact from the arena, perhaps if you lived within blocks rather than 1 mile away you'd feel differently.
PHEIGHTS commented:
Welcome to the latest installment of Forest City Ratner's PR campaign to convince the public (who don't live near Barclays Center) that the arena is not so bad. In the last episode this past Tuesday, Joe Berger of the New York Times said that excessive noise spill from concerts and rampant illegal idling by limos were "everyday irritants" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/nyregion/chaos-and-crime-predicted-with-barclays-center-have-not-materialized.html?ref=nyregion&_r=1&).
All this placement is timed to coincide with the court-ordered supplemental environmental impact statement on the 25-year project delay, whose scoping will have a public hearing on Wednesday 2/27 at 5PM at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights.
I'm not sure Forest City's behind the campaign. I think irresponsible press outlets, some with their own clear conflicts of interest or history of non-skepticism, can manage on their own.

Scott Turner's response

Scott Turner, a longtime activist with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, was invited by Crawford to  run his pub quiz missives in Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, so his criticism comes not without familiarity or regret. He wrote this response:
On Sunday, February 24, the New York Daily News ran an op-ed by Louise Crawford. "The Drunken Hordes That Never Came: Park Slope Was Wrong About Barclays Center."

It is wrong, it is vicious, it plays loose and fast with the facts, and is a disappointing piece from a writer who has been a strong voice questioning the despicable Atlantic Yards project.
Sadly, it's not the piece that Louise wrote. Her original is here. While it still has a few holes, it's a piece I'd not have spent the wee hours typing a long response to.
Louise saw the News vast recasting of her piece, and, she says, didn't have the time to make changes. She should have made the time, or just killed the piece entirely. What was published under her name is a crass chest-thumping piece of bitter triumphalism, the sort of clap that spews from the likes of Bretty Yormark, Marty Markowitz, and, obviously, the Ratner sycophants on the Daily News' editorial board. 
I know Louise, and that's not her take on the Atlantic Yards. It's one of the tricks in the Ratner machine's vast playbook -- co-opt opponents whenever possible.
Below is a rejoinder to the News' version of Louise's piece. One should read Louise's original, then the News' version. Again, the second-person references are to Louise's voice as corrupted by the News' hack editing job, not to Louise herself or her original piece.
It is valid to nail Louise's News-corrupted voice, however. 
* * * * * * * *
Your deligitimization of DDDB and the dozens of other groups that have fought the Atlantic Yards project is sad. Dan Goldstein sounds selfish and those of us who gave much of our lives from 2003 to now sound like idiots. 
Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn was a seeming supporter, of the battle. Oddly, you excoriate us for crying wolf, but you do the same ("And the traffic could get a lot worse once the residential towers start going up.")

This idea of "moving on" limits every citizen's capacity to fight when the next one comes. It sanctifies the vile machinations that made Atlantic Yards a reality, and worse, it deligitimizes the struggle against AY. 
We live in an age where political action has been rendered uncool. You're just a loser with nothing better to do, AY opponents heard. With every voice that says Ratner won and you lost, now get over it!, energy is drained from future fighters. And of course there will be fights in the future.
"[t]esty Brooklynites"? Good lord! Are you that dismissive of everyone who pulled back the wizard's curtain to see what lurked behind it?
Sports teams are bread-and-circuses for communities divided. I'm a big sports fan, but sports these days is the new opiate of the masses. The city and state will plow billions of public dollars, subsidies, cheap land deals, budget misdirects, tax breaks into Ratner's project. The jobs-created-per-public-dollar spent is an abysmally expensive ratio, among the costliest and most inefficient in city history. It's money that should have gone into serious "good job" creation, schools, social programs, mass transit and infrastructure. 
That's what unites communities. Instead, Brooklynites are being told to unite by buying tickets to Barclays Center events -- lining Ratner's pockets but delivering nothing of use to Brooklynites desperate for something useful.
DDDB never took a "drunken hordes" approach to fighting AY. Maybe if we'd used the same shouting-fire-in-a-crowded-theater rhetoric Ratner, Markowitz, Bloomberg and their minions had deployed, arena opponents would have stopped AY. Stopped it and initiated a true community-useful development.

By 2008, Ratner was on the ropes and the savior wasn't Bloomberg or the courts -- it was Mikhail Prokhorov, whose eleventh-hour billions bailed Ratner out. But for Prokhorov, the economy, community opposition and Ratner's own incompetence would have sunk the project.

More importantly, it would have paved the way for a better development in its place -- one worked out by Brooklynites rather than a cabal of ineffectual politicians slapped about by a manipulative, wealthy real-estate developer.

And anyway, the traffic/pedestrian/transit scenarios suggested by analysts not under hire by Ratner were for the entire 16-building development. Those scenarios are still on the table -- for the next 25 years, not the 10 Ratner suggested. Ratner has admitted the 10-year figure -- one that might have provided housing for many of AY's misled low-income supporters -- was never the truth. Nice guy.
AY opponents had plenty to question. We weren't NIMBYites. We were NIABYites -- not in anyone's back yard.
By the way, Brooklyn has had plenty of professional sports teams since the Dodgers left -- the Cyclones in baseball, the Kings in basketball, the 1960s Brooklyn Dodgers football team in the Continental Football League, the New York Aviators hockey team at Floyd Bennett Field. The Daily News makes this mistake all the time. Since you're adopting their editorial voice, I guess you are too. 
The arena's programming has been "inspired"? Jay-Z constantly appearing in self-absorbed myth-making concerts, a cantorial program that reeks of machine-politics (see Norman Oder's AYR:http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2013/02/behind-that-barclays-center-cantorial.html), and various bands that were already on tour and chose Barclays over other area venues just...because it's a shiny new bauble? The February and March slates are pretty thin -- it's not inspirational, it's whoever is out there.
"Ratner won — with a little help from the courts and City Hall." A little help? Either this is subtle sarcasm that falls flat, or a colossal dismissal of the Bloomberg administration's brutal bullying support for Atlantic Yards. That, and how drastically slanted New York State law is in favor of developers and the Empire State Development Corporation. Those laws and the courts cowardly hands-off rulings gut communities who fight un-democratic plunders like AY. 
"Locals have realized it wasn’t so bad to have a basketball arena in their midst, despite their opposition to the way it got there. Fears about noise, traffic, garbage and public urination have so far proved unwarranted." In fact, all of these things have happened. Street parking for residents on event nights is impossible. Limos idle and block roads without fear. Rats -- as you point out way at the bottom of your piece -- are a problem. Throbbing bass noise courses through residences near the arena.

Your friends and neighbors who have grown comfortable with the arena could be some of the many who washed their hands of the project in the first place, who couldn't be bothered when told schools, subways, libraries that serve Park Slope were begging for money but that the sluice gates were open for Ratner.

"Locals have realized it wasn’t so bad to have a basketball arena in their midst, despite their opposition to the way it got there." If they've stopped their opposition to the arena, it means they've given up the fight for low-income housing in the astronomical numbers Ratner promoted, knowing they were pie-in-the-sky falsities. They've given up advocating for a development that provides honest-to-goodness sustainable jobs. Given up pushing for small businesses over mega-brand schemes. They've given up on democratic community empowerment. 
Every ticket bought for a Barclays Center event is a vote for the way Ratner does business. A vote for Bloomberg's pro-developmer/anti-community policies. A vote in favor of Barclays Bank and its role in the fiscal meltdown and its historical malfeasant missteps. A vote for eminent domain abuse.

Every ticket sold tells Bruce Ratner that he got away with the biggest land-grab in the history of Brooklyn.
Every...ticket...sold.
And they encourage Ratner to do it again and again and...again.

To embrace the Barclays Center is to say "eh, what can you do, it's here now. Damn I can't wait to see Patti Smith" The Barclays Center is exactly the sort of candy that'll shut the kids up. If Park Slope's former AY opponents are that easily bought off, it's a very sad turn of events.
It's hard to believe anyone is this comfortable with
--an arena named for a corporation involved in slavery, apartheid, bankrupting of French Jews at the Nazis' request, and funding of the recent devastating Congo civil war;
--a developer who lied to Brooklyn at every step of the process;
--a borough president whose childish egg-creams-and-Steeplechase-Park nostalgia is a cloying embarrassment;
--vilification of people who had the gall to challenge the project; a policy of community disenfranchisement and disempowerment waged by the developers' allies at City and Borough Halls;
--a removal of people from their homes for a for-profit scheme that hasn't provided those "good jobs" or one square foot of low-income housing....and so much else that is wrong with the project. 
Worst of all is the embracing of the sort of Brett Yormark rhetoric that is so laughable, so disingenuous, so crass and snide and hollow. For generations, Brooklyn has organized for housing, jobs and better quality of life. No one ever advocated for a basketball arena. Somehow, this snake-oil has found its way into the medicine cabinets of people who should know better.
I'm not surprised that there are Brooklynites whose brigands-at-the-gates fears were their only reason for opposing the arena. It's hardly surprising that people have convinced themselves that it's okay to like the Barclays Center. They've swaddled themselves in Bloomberg's obnoxious adage that people won't remember how long it took, just that it was built -- a maxim that dismissed the opposition by not even including it. 
It is unforgivable, however, that Bruce Ratner's victory at the corner of Flatbush & Atlantic gives the green light and absolute cover to the next objectionable project. Park Slopers' newfound chumminess with the least-useful element of Ratner's scheme aids and abets that cover. It could be a pride-inducing development built on top of the Old Stone House someday (hey, jobs and housing and PRIDE!) or on the Neathermeade -- maybe for an MLS soccer team if they can't pave over part of Flushing Meadows Park (no real jobs or housing, but hey, PRIDE!!).
One good thing about the Barclays Center -- it's a big bold rust-encased symbol of corporate greed, governmental corruption, and the millions of Brooklynites who sat by quietly while the city's power elite picked their pockets and stole their voices. What Brooklynites do with this awful talisman is anyone's guess...but given the past ten years, the answer won't be pretty.

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