Thursday, September 24, 2015

The New York Nobody Knows doesn't know Atlantic Yards

The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6000 Miles in the City, by sociologist William Helmreich, has received lots of enthusiastic reviews since it was published in 2013. (The paperback just came out.)

I'll write elsewhere about the book as a whole--it's a great conceit, but mixed in execution--but here want to address the significant sloppiness regarding Atlantic Yards.

The AY mention

Atlantic Yards gets a few mentions, but the main passage is below right, from Chapter Six.

It could have used some fact-checking. Some of these errors may be small, but it shows how easy it is to get wrong, fueling future errors from those relying on this source.

No, the Atlantic Yards development project is not "designed by famed architect Frank Gehry." (He was the original designer, and credited master planner, but he was long gone by the time of this book's completion.)

Nor is it "in downtown Brooklyn." (Try Prospect Heights.)

Nor was it approved by Mayor Mike Bloomberg. (Bloomberg delivered subsidies, but the project was approved by the Empire State Development Corporation, a state authority.)

No, it's not quite accurate to say the "yards are owned by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority." (The "yards"--actually the Vanderbilt Yards, an 8.5-acre piece of a 22-acre project--were owned by the MTA, a state agency, but at the time of this book's completion, development rights to one parcel had already been purchased. Also, it's not made clear that the "yards" ≠ Atlantic Yards.)

No, the developer can't "take" properties by eminent domain. (Rather, the developer can get properties conveyed that the government has taken by eminent domain.)

No there are no plans to develop 4.5 million square feet of office space. (Actually, about the space would be about one-tenth of that total, and even those plans are on hold.)

Yes, Ratner did pursue tactics to overcome community opposition, but not via a Community Benefit Agreement. (It was, rather, a Community Benefits Agreement, or CBA.)

Ratner did not quite agree to "give the community various housing benefits." (Rather, they require a commitment from the developer but also public subsidies. Also, the CBA was supposed to go well beyond housing benefits to include things like job training and free tickets to arena events.)

Was there a "flood of boutiques, upscale eateries, and the like, opening at the rate of one a week on Flatbush Avenue"? (Maybe briefly, but that's a overbroad summary.)

Going back to the first sentence, it's not wrong to say that Atlantic Yards exemplifies how "government programs are intertwined with gentrification," but it's a missed opportunity to explain that Atlantic Yards, by offering "affordable housing," was supposed to stem gentrification.

1 comment:

  1. Yes to a "mixed in execution" book. How about this bus-riding observation?
    "To enter a world of a Bronx or Brooklyn bus - it's fair to call them spaces - is to join a world populated in large measure by the poor, the black & the Hispanic, with an occasional Asian and an even rarer elderly white person who was apparently left behind in the various eras of white flight. Except for teenagers, nearly everyone looks tired, bored, and in many cases, worn out and defeated by life's hardships. Their clothes tend to be shabby, and children tug impatiently on their mothers' dresses, pants, or arms and legs. There are people with canes, others in wheelchairs. A few read books in Spanish. Some talk listlessly, or listen to music, but most just stare out into the distance."

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