Skip to main content

Planner Garvin: UDC (ESDC) has "truly amazing powers"

On the day of the federal court hearing in the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, let's consider the history of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). For that, turn to Alexander Garvin's The American City : What Works, What Doesn't, which has become the definitive academic text for students of urban planning and, despite a few flaws (read the reviews at Amazon.com), is well worth a read by the informed layperson.

Garvin, who teaches at Yale, has a particular expertise in New York City, having served on the City Planning Commission, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and, notably, managing director for planning of NYC2012, the committee that aimed to bring the summer Olympics to New York. He has a particularly close relationship to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff, whose vision he credits for the (unsuccessful) effort to win the 2012 Olympics.

So Garvin's an insider, and his comments about the ESDC's predecessor, the New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC), deserve notice.

"Truly amazing powers"

He describes (p. 357) the late-1960s genesis of the Roosevelt Island development:
There were no acquisition problems because the site was owned by the city of New York and no political problems because its developer, the New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC), was a superagency with truly amazing powers.
(Emphasis added)

The UDC had been Governor Nelson Rockefeller's response to the riots that erupted in cities across the country during the mid-1960s. The statute creating this superagency was enacted in 1968. As written by Edward Logue, its first president and chief executive officer, the legislation provided the UDC with powers that could overcome every difficulty he had run into, first as New Haven's development administrator and then as chairman of the Boston Redevelopment Authority... The UDC could condemn land, hire expert professional staff, ignore zoning and building regulations, and even issue tax-exempt bonds to finance development. Its most remarkable power was the ability to do all this without obtaining the approval of any other city, county, or state agency.


Removing frictional blight

Garvin writes (p. 262):
Another approach for eliminating slums calls for removing impediments to private investment. The argument is that if unsightly structures, incompatible land uses, and noxious activities blighting an area are removed, neighboring property owners will make improvements, developers will purchase and rehabilitate or build, and banks will lend the money to pay for this. Therefore, government should acquire these blighted properties and resell them to developers who will execute the city's renewal plan.

It's hard to argue that Prospect Heights and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard are slums, but the cost of building a platform over the yard and moving the railyard functions had been an impediment to building. But the Atlantic Yards project is not "the city's renewal plan"--and that's part of the court case.

Planning strategy

In a section titled "Housing Redevelopment as a Planning Strategy" (p. 276), Garvin writes about major developments, though not quite a mixed-use development like Atlantic Yards, not to mention one like Queens West to be built on essentially empty land. Still, it's notable that redevelopment--at least of housing-only developments--was seen as a catalyst rather than an end in itself:
By itself, redevelopment will not eliminate slums. It must be accompanied by strategies for the survival of the new housing still surrounded by uncleared slums and for the improvement of untouched older housing still occupied by slum dwellers.

It has been years since anybody seriously proposed a major housing redevelopment project. It is time we recognized that redevelopment can revitalize appropraite sections of our cities. The errors of the past need not be repeated. In the right area, clearance and redevelopment can be a catalyst that triggers genuine urban renewal. But redevelopment is desirable only if the costs (in terms of disrupted lives and businesses) are low and it truly results in a good environment.


(The cost of directly disrupted lives and businesses would certainly be much less than in Robert Moses's time. Whether Atlantic Yards would result in a "good environment" is hotly disputed.)

...Once we accept the fact that clearance does not necessarily eliminate slum problems and redevelopment does not necessarily increase the supply of affordable housing, and once we understand that its primary utility is as a method for stimulating additional private development that would not otherwise occur, we can make housing redevelopment an effective device for fixing cities. Nothing more is needed because governments already possess all the powers they need for eliminating the bad environment.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in November 2017, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

The previous graphic, from August 2017 (without the ghost B1)

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …