Saturday, April 04, 2015

From BKLYNR: Lander and Williams on the Barclays Center (inclusion? promise-keeping?)

The final issue of BKLYNR--a valuable web-based publication to which I contributed a couple of times--contains John Surico's Q&A: City Councilmen Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams: The two representatives on why it’s the best of times and the worst of times for Brooklynites. I've excerpted a relevant exchange.

What value do you see in Brooklyn’s ascension?

Lander: There’s definitely value, and I don’t think anyone would want to go back to the Brooklyn of the late 1970s and early 80s. That wasn’t better because the housing was more affordable, for the most part. It was dangerous; there were no places to shop or eat; the schools weren’t good; you couldn’t go to the parks. All of that sort of transformed, and that generated a lot of value and opportunity for a lot of people.

Now it’s very disproportionately distributed, however. It’s much more a value for people who are richer and whiter. That’s not to say no value, though. I think one of the most interesting nights of the last decade in Brooklyn was the opening night of Barclays Center, which was a Jay Z concert. He bought out half the tickets and sold them for $30 each. It seemed like that was mostly African-American kids from public housing. The DJ was playing and giving shout-outs. There was something about this moment of elevation in Brooklyn that was not just diverse but, at that moment, centering on the public housing experience at the moment of Brooklyn’s elevation. But, big picture, who owns it, who benefits, who is getting most of the income, and who gets displaced … it’s very disproportionate. And then a lot of the things we love, regardless of race, class and income, are hard to keep as a result of rising housing prices. We’re losing things people love in the wealthiest neighborhoods because the almighty dollar rules over the artists, the mom and pop stores, the manufacturers. And that’s real.

Williams: So if I went back in time, would I not have Barclays? Yes, I don’t think it should be here. I think we should have done a lot more to save the neighborhood, get better housing, and things like that. The neighborhood was good to save, and I don’t think Barclays should’ve been there. Is there value in having Barclays here? Yes. Was I at the Jay Z concert? Yes. I’ve been to subsequent events there, too. So there’s definitely value, and it’s here to stay. But we have to make sure the housing that was promised comes, though.

(Emphases added)

I wasn't there, but I question Lander's take on Jay-Z. The $30 tickets were snapped up fast, and while the DJ, according to this report, did a shout-out to his Lafayette Gardens origins, I don't recall any mention of a major presence of public housing residents. Nor does a search confirm such mention.

Yes, the arena gives out a fractional number of tickets to each event, and creates some trickle-down positive vibes. Yes, the arena has hired locals, including a significant number of public housing residents. But transparency is absent--the arena refuses to say how much a worker typically earns.

It's interesting to see that Williams, who never expressed as much criticism of Atlantic Yards as Lander once did, to express such ambivalence. The question, in hindsight, was how to accomplish development that was most needed.

And the question, lingering, is whether the project, as it's built out, will have the impacts that were feared. As I've pointed out, the relatively lesser impact of the arena is predicated on a number of factors, including a smaller capacity, lesser attendance, and a temporary plaza, without the towers around it.

As to Williams's statement about the housing, well, that's de Blasio 2.0. The promises have already been violated, and the only way to make sure the housing comes as promised--not merely on schedule, but at the level of affordability promised--is to add subsidy from the public.

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