Skip to main content

Critic suggests Atlantic Yards "needed a Jane Jacobs to stop it;" I suggest that a failure of eloquence was by no means the largest failure

Updated with comments from Daniel Goldstein

Architecture critic Alexandra Lange, who wrote a devastating takedown of Nicolai Ouroussoff, talked about her new book Writing About Architecture with Project for Public Spaces. An excerpt from the discussion:
In the last chapter of my book I discuss Jane Jacobs, and how she might have reacted to the Atlantic Yards project. I think it needed a Jane Jacobs to stop it — an advocate as eloquent about the costs, and the alternatives, as those seductive Gehry renderings — and for whatever reason, one did not appear. But the activist spirit was by no means dead. It just got diffused into activist non-profits and activist blogs and activist essays. The diffused media landscape made it easier to follow the saga week by week, but perhaps made it harder for any one person to become the voice.
My comments:
I question whether a Jane Jacobs was possible for Atlantic Yards. She would have needed a big media megaphone, and they were not available. Atlantic Yards was not merely a question of architecture and design--it was "jobs, housing, and hoops."
One thing needed was honest and thoughtful architecture criticism (which Ms. Lange focuses on in her book). Had Michael Kimmelman been writing instead of Muschamp and Ouroussoff, there might have been a greater effort to modify the plan, but the arena was non-negotiable.And all the NY dailies supported the project. They did virtually no investigative reporting. The political heavyweights were lined up from the start. The single toughest mainstream coverage was Chris Smith's August 2006 NY mag cover story, but it had no impact on a project already on the train to approval.
The Times published one op-ed about the project--the tone was "pox on both houses*--before the project was approved in 2006. That was in the City section. The first op-ed in the paper at large appeared *after* the project had passed.
It was a longshot, but the only way to stop this project was the courts. And the courts pretty much punted (until the last case, which has been mostly ignored by the press, when they smacked down the Empire State Development Corporation regarding the environmental review for Phase 2). And the press pretty much ignored those earlier cases too, despite some significant eloquence in court.
Failure of eloquence? Maybe, but a lot of other larger failures, including democratic process, press coverage, honesty from government agencies, and developer candor.
Goldstein's comments

Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn added some thoughtful comments, including:
The differences between this era, and this fight, and Jacobs' are too many to enumerate, and differences in the media climate are vast, as Ms. Lange argues. While Robert Moses was extremely formidable, Ms. Jacobs didn't have to deal with the kind of intense, private developer PR and backroom lobbying that we did (it’s fool’s errand to gauge which was more formidable, the point is the nature of each had their unique challenges.) Add the fact that Mayor Bloomberg has been, perhaps, the most powerful powerbroker the city has seen, and we were up against a more formidable opponent with a much more compromised—also prostrate and stenographic—press, cowed by the power of the Ratners and Bloombergs.
What's the Voice today?

I added:
I'd add, contra Ms. Lange's generally thoughtful critique in her book, that Curbed and Brownstoner in no way function as analogues to the Village Voice of Jacobs' era. The differences--depth, commercial pressures, original reporting--are huge. Maybe the Brooklyn Rail of 2004-05, which published some tough and eloquent reportage by Brian Carreira, might qualify. But too few people read his work.
From the book:


  1. You are entirely correct that there was no informed and sustained media opposition to Atlantic Yards. Nobody in the media did enough reporting to know the subject well enough to oppose it. As someone who worked hard to get her criticisms published, I can tell you, in addition, that the media were not hungry for Atlantic Yards pieces. I felt fortunate to publish two op-eds in Metro New York. There was certainly no megaphone like the ones Jane Jacobs had. Congratulations on Ms. Lange's acknowledgment of your blog.

    Given the massive amount of developer money that has come into the process since Jane Jacobs's zenith, even Ms. Jacobs might not have turned back Atlantic Yards. As Ms. Lange may not be aware, Jane Jacobs's heartfelt opposition--expressed in a rare communique from Toronto--was insufficient to stop the re-zoning of the Williamsburg waterfront.

  2. One thing I left out of my comment on the PPS blog is that Jacobs fought her battles in MANHATTAN, and like it or not there is still substantial media bias and negligence and lack of resources towards and in Brooklyn. If it happens in Manhattan it is inherently important. If it happens in Brooklyn, well, not so much. Yes, I'm speaking most specifically about the NY Times, unless of course it is about the Park Slope Food Coop, then an article every week is warranted.


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 …

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

This graphic, posted in February 2018, 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--but not yet approved--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.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


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 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…