Skip to main content

Missing from the New Yorker's Bloomberg profile: public authorities and the real story of Atlantic Yards

A profile in this week's New Yorker, clocking in at more than ten thousand words, is headlined The Untouchable: Can a good mayor amass too much power?, and presents this tension:
Thanks to his money, Bloomberg has managed, perhaps more than any democratic politician ever before, to govern strictly with what he considers to be the greater good in mind. And, thanks to his money, the counterargument goes, he has essentially corrupted the system itself.

Is it always the greater good? In other words, should the Mayor be seen, at worst, as using questionable means for good ends, or do questionable means lead to questionable ends?

I think Bloomberg's record is mixed, but on Atlantic Yards and development issues, he's vulnerable to much criticism. So Ben McGrath's New Yorker profile, while reasonably thorough and hardly a valentine, could've been much tougher.

Notably, had McGrath waited until this week to write, he would've learned that Bloomberg is the prime culprit in an effort to stall reform of public authorities, as Assemblyman Richard Brodsky pointed out yesterday.

And if he'd dug further, he would've concluded that Bloomberg's appointees on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board provided the crucial, but dubious, justification in June for revising the Vanderbilt Yard deal with Forest City Ratner.

Bloomberg as Moses?

McGrath writes:
Bloomberg took office during a recession, and quickly established himself as a bold and decisive fiscal manager, ultimately demonstrating, as his friend Mitchell Moss, an urban-planning professor at N.Y.U., says, that New York was “open for business after 9/11.” As the economy recovered, Bloomberg set about trying to transform the city, on a scale not seen since the days of Robert Moses. “I think if you look, we’ve done more in the last seven years than—I don’t know if it’s fair to say more than Moses did, but I hope history will show the things we did made a lot more sense,” Bloomberg told me. “You know, Moses did some things that turned out not to be great: cutting us off from the waterfront, putting roads all along the water.” The Bloomberg model, under the direction of Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Amanda Burden, the City Planning Commissioner, was based to a large extent on undoing the Moses legacy: rezoning for commercial and residential use large tracts of waterfront property that had once been the province of industry.

Grand projects in New York had long been believed to be unfeasible; the costs up front were too high, and the red tape too thick. (The Second Avenue subway has been in turnaround since 1929.) Urban planning was strictly an academic discipline, and development proceeded on a piecemeal basis. Doctoroff, who as an investment banker in the mid-nineties had dreamed of bringing the 2012 Summer Olympics to the city, persuaded Bloomberg to enable supersized, centrally planned mixed-use projects that would essentially create new neighborhoods from scratch: in downtown Brooklyn, in Hunts Point, on the far West Side of Manhattan.


There was no neighborhood from scratch to be created in Downtown Brooklyn; rather, there was a rezoning aimed to increase office space--to extend a business neighborhood--that wound up bringing condos to Flatbush Avenue--a new skyline but not quite a neighborhood.

As for the Robert Moses comparison, remember how Doctoroff in February 2007 demurred from claiming the mantle, and was challenged forcefully by South Bronx activist Majora Carter. And remember how Bloomberg defender Moss was challenged on WNYC in December 2007.

The AY omission

Also note that, were Bloomberg truly proud of Atlantic Yards, he would have mentioned it--and the baseball stadiums--on his campaign web site and in PlaNYC 2030 materials.

The Bloomberg revision and AY in Downtown Brooklyn

McGrath notes that the West Side Stadium and the Olympics never came about:
Cataclysmic events like September 11th and the current global financial crisis have a way of occasioning revisionist thinking, and in the early months of this year, after the shock of the prospective third term had subsided, a more skeptical narrative of the Bloomberg mayoralty began to surface, in which he appeared less like Batman and more like a beneficiary of larger social and economic forces.

...The re-assessors rattle off similar lists of unfulfilled projects to imply that the verdict on grand-scale transformation is far from certain. The World Trade Center remains unbuilt, the conversion of the old Post Office on Eighth Avenue into a new Penn Station—Moynihan Station—is stalled, and the real-estate giant the Related Companies has had to postpone financing for the Hudson Yards project on the West Side, where the stadium was to have gone. If Atlantic Yards, a proposed remaking of downtown Brooklyn centered on the relocation of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, ever proceeds, it will be greatly diminished, and without the participation of Frank Gehry, whose involvement was originally used as a selling point. The rezonings, which amount to an impressive one-sixth of the city’s total land area, await the next boom cycle, but their primary imprint on the skyline, thus far, can be seen in luxury condominium towers and garish McMansion co-ops in Brooklyn and Queens that now seem emblematic of an unrealistic age when Wall Street money accounted for thirty-five per cent of the city’s earnings.


No, Atlantic Yards wouldn't remake Downtown Brooklyn, it would extend Downtown Brooklyn into Prospect Heights.

A deeper focus on Atlantic Yards might have put the mayor's reign in more perspective.

Comments

  1. I haven't had time to read the entire Ben McGrath article, but from what I've seen so far the following seems to make no sense:

    "The Bloomberg model . . . was based to a large extent on undoing the Moses legacy: rezoning for commercial and residential use large tracts of waterfront property that had once been the province of industry."

    Aside from the question of whether the Bloomberg rezonings are a good idea or not, Moses (as far as I know) had nothing to do with the original zoning of NYC's waterfront for industrial uses.

    Furthermore, as can be seen from the essays associated with the Moses exhibits and from the Joel Schwartz book, the "New York Approach," that was a major source of info, one of Moses' biggest "achievements" was actually to destroy large amounts of NYC's industrial land for "tower-in-the-park" (I call them "tower-in-a-lot") housing projects, highways, parks and large civic centers. For instance, lots of downtown Brooklyn that was once commercial / industrial was torn down for things like middle income housing, civic structures and Cadman Plaza.

    So, Bloomberg et al. are not undoing the Moses legacy, in this regard, but building upon it and extending it.

    7:31 p.m., Mon., 8/17/09

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

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 …

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…

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

Click on graphic to enlarge. This is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change, and the project is already well behind that tentative timetable.


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 …

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…