Sunday, April 12, 2015

Institutional Investor on Brooklyn's urban revival and AY (plus "peak Brooklyn"?)

There an interesting piece in Institutional Investor, dated 3/10/15, headlined An Urban Revival Grows in Brooklyn, subtitled "Big money is flowing into cities across the U.S. Can it do the right thing by Brooklyn and other urban areas."

It begins by noting the renovation of the Loew's Kings Theatre,  supported by Goldman Sachs Group's Urban Investment Group. Author Imogen Rose-Smith cites big money from the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System supporting a 42- story tower in Fort Greene, as well as Russian and Chinese capital for Atlantic Yards.

The Brooklyn Community Foundation "moved to an office in 1000 Dean Street, in economically depressed Crown Heights; the building itself is part of an effort to revitalize that neighborhood." Or maybe "rapidly hyper-gentrifying" Crown Heights?

Rose-Smith notes the anxieties of gentrification and Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious plan for affordable housing, and the skepticism around it.

She discovers "a whole ecosystem looking to build a better Brooklyn," with notable examples the Brooklyn Navy Yard, site of remaining manufacturing jobs, and the Pratt Institute. But she also notes Spike Lee's rant on gentrification, and the divide between twee consumption and child poverty

On Atlantic Yards

As shown in the passage above right, the author provides a summary of the transition under Greenland. As I commented, the name change surely derives from a desire by the new owners to distance the project from its history of controversy.

And while Forest City may say that "low-income housing was always an important part of the project," the thing to remember about the "affordable housing"--below-market, not merely low-income--is that New York City agreed to let the developer aim more of the required "affordable housing" at better-off middle-income households, including those earning some $140,000. Thus, higher rents and bigger margins.

Also, the so-called innovation regarding prefabricated housing has been stalled by a "legal dispute," as noted in the passage at right, but it's worth explaining that the dispute concerns not merely payments but the integrity of the system: Skanska charges that Forest City Ratner's design was flawed, and says "No one knows if the building is going to leak."

And while Forest City once pledged to build the entire Atlantic Yards project through modular technology, its new overseer/partner, the Greenland Group, has decided that the next towers will be built conventionally. Other developers have planned and built smaller modular buildings, and surely they will continue. Whether another Atlantic Yards modular tower emerges is very much in question.

Peak Brooklyn?

In the same issue of the magazine comes reporter Anne Szustek's essay, Have We Reached Peak Brooklyn? She describes how, "[o]n Brooklyn-focused blogs, barely a month goes by without news of a neighborhood fixture such as a coffee shop or restaurant falling prety to rent hikes."

"The bohemian lifestyle in Williamsburg... is a patina used to hawk condos," writes Szustek, who lives in Bay Ridge. That means it takes an hour to get to work in Manhattan--on a good day. And it also means she, among others, is wondering whether that's any way "to build a home, in the residential or community sense."

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