Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Daily News on "living nightmare" for project neighbors; sex harass victim speaks out

In December, I wrote about how a Prospect Heights woman reported regular sexual harassment from construction workers in the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, and an even worse episode--a "dry hump"--from drunks leaving a Barclays Center boxing event.

Those concerns were conveyed secondhand by the friends of the woman, and I kept her name confidential at their request.

Now resident Elicia Howard, frustrated after little progress from overseers of the project and the Barclays Center, goes public in a Daily News article headlined A Living Nightmare: Neighbors say life next to Atlantic Yards is like living in 'shark tank'

That "shark tank" quote comes from Howard's original letter. In the article, other neighbors relate regular problems with construction--perhaps not so much "shark tank" as "loud grinder."

Howard has apparently been willing to go public because she feels there's been too little progress since that meeting.

Ashley Cotton, a spokeswoman for the project (being developed by Greenland Forest City Partners) and the arena, says a new “Islanders Code of Conduct” video plays at hockey games--a response to reports that hockey fans are far rowdier than most other arena attendees, especially basketball fans--has begun. (I can't find any record that they've announced this video publicly or shared it.)

But Cotton acknowledges it has taken time to launch a plan to have a color-coded ID program for construction workers. “We are moving through the process and steps needed to get the system in place, including identifying and procuring equipment, getting the unions and the contractors on board, etc.” she told Daily News sports reporter Michael O'Keeffe. (He's occasionally written skeptically about the project.)

At a meeting in February, Cotton said the program was in process, and that it would launch soon, but she didn't have a date. Yes, large projects have bureaucratic hurdles, but it has taken more than four months, so it's understandable how this could be interpreted as a lack of urgency.

Harassment training, racial tension

The Daily News does not report on Cotton's response to the request from Howard and her allies for general sexual harassment training for construction workers, but Cotton has not mentioned such training at public meetings.

I'd note another issue raised in Howard's initial letter, which is also mentioned in today's article. When she tried to speak to a site supervisor after being harassed by construction workers, she wrote, "he didn't even want to shake my hand when I introduced myself. I feel this was because I am a black female, and that to me was the ultimate disrespect."

The article does note that "Hockey fans especially seem dismissive of the black and Latino residents who live near the arena." I haven't seen enough to evaluate that, but, given the configuration of the project and the potential for tensions--such as an anecdote regarding hockey fans cursing out church members--even a very small number of insensitive fans can make an impact.

This flips the way the racial dynamic regarding this project has often been framed, with "privileged gentrifiers" (mainly white) criticizing a project portrayed (by developer Forest City Ratner's allies, many recipients of the developer's largesse) as a boon to Brooklynites of color.

The article notes that "[c]rime is up in the area around the Barclays Center since construction began in 2010," but I'd say that's not directly relevant, given the size of the 78th Precinct and the lack of reports of serious crimes related to the arena.

The article notes that the numbers "don’t suggest a causal link between the project and crime." What those numbers may suggest, I'd contend, is that the 78th Precinct has enough on its plate to not focus intently on some of the regular, low-level problems facing arena neighbors, like illegal parking and idling.

From the article: "bull in a china shop"

The article states:
“You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had construction workers tell me ‘Go f--- yourself’ or threaten to kick my ass,” says neighborhood activist Wayne Bailey, who sits on Community Board 8 and is the president of the New York Police Department’s 78th Precinct Community Council.
Some residents say Ashley Cotton, the partnership’s executive in charge of public, government and media relations, makes a real effort to find solutions to their complaints.
...Other residents, including Howard, believe Cotton and her staff are more intent on glossing over the problems the Atlantic Yards project has brought to their neighborhood. But everybody agrees answers are hard to find for a project that will transform a chunk of low-rise Brooklyn into an area that resembles Midtown Manhattan. The Atlantic Yards has unleashed a Pandora’s box of daily hassles on the neighborhood that the developer simply can’t manage, residents say.
“It is the proverbial bull in the china shop,” says Park Slope resident Steve Ettlinger. “Even when they do everything right, they are still going to break the china.”
Indeed, the tight fit of the project, encroaching into a residential neighborhood, leaves little margin for error. For example, Bailey regularly posts photos and videos on Instagram documenting seeming violations of law or construction commitments, to little avail.

What's next?

Answers are "hard to find," because they'd require a lot more enforcement. For now, the developer, state, and city have been willing to let a relatively small number of residents--those living in the blocks near the project--bear the brunt.

Local elected officials have been mostly quiet about this. Perhaps Howard's decision to go public will be a wake-up call.

And perhaps some of these issues will be discussed at tomorrow's Community Update meeting.

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