Thursday, May 02, 2013

Forest City's Gilmartin: “It may surprise some given my developer DNA, that I identify more with Jane Jacobs than Robert Moses.”

In MaryAnne Gilmartin Boasts About Building Affordable Housing, Moving to Brooklyn, the New York Observer reports:
Apparently, though, newly appointed president and CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin is now thrilled about housing. As she told a crowd of urban planning gurus, developers and real estate powerbrokers at a CURE. (Center for Urban Real Estate) dinner at Columbia University Wednesday night, while all of the positive feedback on the arena had been nice, “it is the housing component that will truly revolutionize the project.”
Ms. Gilmartin raved about the Forest City Ratner’s decision to go with modular, conflating the cost-saving measure with much higher-minded ideals than cheapness. It was about innovation, Ms. Gilmartin said, and the developer’s commitment to affordable housing—the much-delayed component that helped Forest City sell the controversial project to political leaders and community groups. (While the first tower, at 32 stories, will be the world’s tallest pre-fab building, there was likely more afoot than trailblazing in the developer’s decision to go with modular, which promises cost savings and speed for a project that has been plagued by delays and financial woes.)
After speaking about the undeniable influence of Robert Moses, Ms. Gilmartin also expressed her admiration for Jane Jacobs, praising her focus on mixed-use development and declaring that: “It may surprise some given my developer DNA, that I identify more with Jane Jacobs than Robert Moses.”
My comments:
It may surprise some, indeed. As Paul Goldberger has suggested, "So if there is any way to follow Jane Jacobs, it is to think of her as showing us not a physical model for city form but rather a perceptual model for skepticism."
There's ample reason to be skeptical of Gilmartin and Forest City, not least the developer's longstanding claim that the project would be completed in a decade, a claim abandoned for a contract allowing 25 years.
Bruce Ratner in September 2010 famously tried to revise the story: “It was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in.”
Would Jane Jacobs or Robert Moses produce those slick brochures that Forest City spent so much $ on? Pay the lobbyists and p.r. people?
Forest City's hard-nosed negotiation style--trying to get some of the larger subsidized units assigned to the highest-income brackets--shows that their first commitment, of course, is to the bottom line.
An academic and a businessperson

The Observer reports:
But then, Ms. Gilmartin was not the only one to extoll the altruism and selflessness of real estate developers. CURE. director and SHoP partner Vishaan Chakrabarti opened the evening with rather lavish praise for those in attendance, proclaiming: “heroes, heroes, you are heroes.”
Heroes who give donations to his program and hire his graduates? My comment:
Mr. Chakrabarti uneasily wears the dual hats of businessperson and academic. For example, at a hearing last month regarding Madison Square Garden, he praised the Barclays Center--designed by SHoP, where he's now a partner, as operating "seamlessly" because of proper loading dock operations.
It doesn't operate seamlessly, and that detracts from Chakrabarti's credibility as an architect. 
Another comment

4 comments:

  1. A few words on the heroes, and Moses versus Jacobs.

    I voted for the Mayor and his administration three times. He has been the best city manager we've seen in a long time, and most likely one of the best in the history of the city. He is sincere in his beliefs about what is best for the city, and he certainly works very hard to improve New York. He is also the richest citizen of the city, and I don't believe he and his Planning Commissioner are part of a culture of cheating.

    At the same time, I think the development model his administration aggressively promotes, which makes an alliance of Big Government, Big Finance, Big Developers and Big Architecture, is bad for the city. If Jane Jacobs lived in Park Slope, she would have been on of the people in the demonstrations against Atlantic Yards.

    Jacobs believed in the system that developed Park Slope: the city platted the streets, and then landowners sold lots to the small developers and builders who built most of the rowhouses. There was no zoning, there was very little planning, and there weren't even many architects involved. There were certainly no public subsidies to mega-developers.

    At Atlantic Yards, the city could have raised bonds to build the deck over the rail yards, and then sold pieces to individual developers. That was how Battery Park City was built (which was Commissioner Burden's first planing job, by the way.) The result would have been a substantial profit for the city, with an opportunity for public involvement in the planning process. Jacobs never argued for a big development like Atlantic Yards, but she was all for public process and the engagement of many small developers.

    Instead, the city arranged $300 million to $2 billion dollars in public subsidies to a Big Developer with a personal net worth of $400 million, despite the fact that at least one other developer was willing to pay more and take less. The Big Developer hired the ultimate Big Architect (Frank Gehry, who is perhaps Commissioner Burden's favorite architect) to design what urban designers call Big Architecture. Instead of beginning with the design of the streets and public realm, it begins with the design of the iconic buildings like Miss Brooklyn. In this case, the Big Architect was used to get greater density for the site, but having succeeded, Mr. Gehry is no longer involved.

    Big Finance likes this, because they like big projects with big increments of financing they can invest in. The development process used in the typical South Brooklyn block, where 15 or 20 small entrepreneurs might build the many rowhouses and commercial buildings individually, is small and complicated potatoes in the eyes of Big Finance. But Jacobs would tell us it is the way 99.9% of the best parts of the city have been built.

    New York is a corrupt state, and there has been a culture of cheating at Atlantic Yards, but as I said, I don't think it flows from the Mayor and his Planning Commissioner. This is their vision of how New York should be built. It is much closer to Moses than Jacobs, but it owes even more to Global Capitaiism and Big Money. Twelve years of it have contributed to the extremely unbalanced city New York has become.

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    1. Thanks for your comments.

      I don't think the mayor and Amanda Burden *think* they are a cheating, not in the classic sense, but consider: they have gone along with Ratner's plan, including the stretching of deadlines, and the (apparent) decision to give away city property without payment.
      http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2013/02/uncounted-savings-on-barclays-center.html

      Bloomberg endorsed the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, telling people, "You have Bruce Ratner’s word, and that should be enough." Four years later, Bloomberg changed his tune: “I’m violently opposed to Community Benefits Agreements."

      At what point does enabling developers become cheating? I think he's way over the line.

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  2. John, I think your description of the Mayor's attitude is very good, but I'm confused by your insistence on the "virtue" of this administration.

    I guess my question is: So what? Wayne LaPierre is sincere, too, but that doesn't make his positions less deadly for the rest of us.

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