Skip to main content

Amanda Burden gets buffed (again) in the Times; what's missing: where things didn't work out as promised (BK waterfront, Downtown Brooklyn), where the city punted (Atlantic Yards), and the failure to plan

City Planning Commissioner Chairwoman Amanda Burden a mostly laudatory profile in today's New York Times Metropolitan section, Amanda Burden Wants to Remake New York. She Has 19 Months Left., which lets the protagonist claim, “I like to say that our ambitions are as broad and far-reaching as those of Robert Moses, but we judge ourselves by Jane Jacobs’s standards."

The writer, real estate reporter Julie Satow, gives a nod to a few critics of Burden, but not author Roberta Brandes Gratz, who demolished that supposed Jacobs/Moses duality in her book The Battle for Gotham, or others who've blanched at Burden's arrogance.

Nor is there any sober criticism from a mainstream figure like Alex Garvin--who, the article reveals, was Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's choice for the post Burden got--who has consistently warned that the city has failed to support "the public realm," parks and transportation improvements that would more organically support and drive growth.

There's a lot in the article about Burden's elegant appearance and Social Register background, but the reporter ignores or forgets several examples, including Atlantic Yards, Downtown Brooklyn, the Fourth Avenue rezoning, Yankee Stadium, and the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront, where things didn't work out as Burden planned or professed. (Here's an epic critique of Burden, from Noticing New York's Michael D.D. White in September 2008.)

Nor does Burden's cheerleading for eminent domain, as with the Columbia University expansion or the (very different-than-planned) Willets Point rezoning, get a nod.

The summary

The article states:
Since 2002, when she was appointed to head City Planning, she has overseen the wholesale rezoning of the city, with 115 rezoning plans covering more than 10,300 blocks; by the end of her administration, the department is expected to have rezoned about 40 percent of New York, an unprecedented number.
On Ms. Burden’s watch, the Brooklyn waterfront has been transformed from a landscape of derelict industrial structures to one of glossy condominiums and parkland, the abandoned elevated railroad track that runs through Chelsea has been converted into the popular High Line park, and the once-desolate Hudson Yards neighborhood is poised for a rebirth as a commercial and residential hub.
“Creating fine-grained open spaces in combination with remaking the city’s land-use blueprint is what I’m most proud of,” Ms. Burden added, perched on a seat at the enormous round table that dominates her well-worn second-floor office at 22 Reade Street, zoning maps on the wall behind her, a photo of the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront in Brooklyn propped in the corner.
Of course, with Battery Park City, where Burden earned her stripes, the open space came first. With Atlantic Yards, the (permanent) open space would come last. And the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront rezoning has not delivered the open space promised, as Capital New York's Dana Rubinstein wrote three days ago and local Community Board 1 rezoning chair Laura Hofmann warned in March 2008.

As for Downtown Brooklyn, it was rezoned to spur office development. Instead, it spawned luxury condos. So much for planning to anticipate demand. So much for Burden's 2007 claim that Sen. Charles Schumber's report calling for office space was "prescient."

MAS: AY down the memory hole

Satow reports:
Her fans say that Ms. Burden is a visionary who will leave behind a much-improved city. “There is no question that under Amanda’s leadership, New York has experienced a renaissance,” said Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Art Society [MAS] of New York, “with more development of parkland, waterfront and infrastructure over the last 10 years than in the 100 years before it.”
Note that the MAS, under Cipolla's predecessor Kent Barwick, offered a mend-it-don't-end-it plan to improve Atlantic Yards and helped create BrooklynSpeaks, "an initiative to reform the Atlantic Yards plan to ensure its urban design integrates with surrounding neighborhoods, includes affordable housing that meets the community’s needs, has an effective transportation policy, and involves the public in its future decision-making."

Not only does the Times not mention any of that, the MAS left BrooklynSpeaks because it went to court--and won, at least so far.

Some criticism: gentrification

Satow reports:
But critics say that the sum total of Ms. Burden’s ambitions will be a gentrified city that no longer has a place for working-class New Yorkers.
“The overall effect of the city’s rezonings has been incredibly dramatic in terms of the creation of expensive, market-rate housing and typically middling at best in terms of affordable housing,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
....But others say it merely created a boom market for real estate without any real benefits for the local community. “The High Line didn’t create any new affordable housing, only condominiums for the rich, and the park itself has no open spaces for kids, but is more something for tourists to walk through,” said Miguel Acevedo, president of the tenants’ association at the Robert Fulton Houses, an affordable-housing development in the neighborhood.

Burden provides a boilerplate response:
Ms. Burden argues that gentrification is merely a pejorative term for necessary growth. “Improvement of neighborhoods — some people call it gentrification — provides more jobs, provides housing, much of it affordable, and private investment, which is tax revenue for the city,” she said. On her watch, the administration has undertaken financing 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014, of which more than 130,000 have been built, and has created projects like Via Verde, the handsome, eco-friendly subsidized development in the South Bronx. “We are making so many more areas of the city livable,” she said. “Now, young people are moving to neighborhoods like Crown Heights that 10 years ago wouldn’t have been part of the lexicon.”
(Emphasis added)

Note that 130,000 affordable units have not "been built" from the ground up. As the Times reported two years ago, "In 2005, the city said it would build 92,000 units and preserve 73,000 by 2014. Now, it expects to build 60,000 and preserve 105,000."

More importantly, the article scants an essential issue: as wide variety of critics and observers have pointed out, the City Planning Commission and the Department of City Planning have much more to do with rezoning and with design than actual planning for coordinated growth.

The myth builds

The Times reports:
Ms. Burden, who is also chairwoman of the City Planning Commission, is known for her laser focus on detail, and no project is too small for her attention. When an old concrete piling and makeshift pier at Stuyvesant Cove Park, a sliver of green along the East River from 18th Street to 23rd Street, was threatened with demolition, “I contacted Amanda and asked for help,” said Mark Thompson, chairman of Community Board 6, whose district covers the area. “She actually came down, sat at the site, realized why we loved it, and decided to save it.”
Well, yes, and no. Burden has been criticized for such attention to detail, and in this article gets criticized by Julia Vitullo-Martin of the Regional Plan Association, who thinks Burden's interest in contextual zoning keeps things too small. (Interestingly, Vitullo-Martin is also a critic of Atlantic Yards.)

More importantly, Burden has also punted on democratic responsibility for a project like Atlantic Yards, saying that because "a predominant amount" of the Atlantic Yards site was owned by the state, it was OK to bypass City Council review.

Who's planning for?

Unsurprisingly, given the focus of the article and the background of the reporter, the article ends with a question of how, "For developers, the clock is ticking."

What about the rest of us?

The article lets Burden buff her myth:

While Ms. Burden still has much to do in her nearly 600 days remaining in office, she is taking a reflective look at her accomplishments. “We have tried to diagnose the DNA of each neighborhood; I have spent a lot of time in the streets, talking to communities,” she said.
When did she come and speak to Brooklyn about Atlantic Yards?


  1. It's interesting that the Bloomberg-Burden era coincided with the stolen election era of George W. Bush. The country has been in a state of shock and disorientation since September 11, 2001—and these socialite cannibals have taken full advantage of the sense of helplessness and powerlessness that New York, and indeed much of the country, has felt since those three ass-clowns took on their respective offices. She is a sickening, pretentious fool who majored in Animal Psychology (!) at Sarah Lawrence. She got him elected and she got to redecorate New York in Chanel. What a legacy, eh?


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 (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.

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't be so cheap.


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…

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…

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park in 2017: no new towers, unfilled affordable units, Islanders prepare to leave, project timetable fuzzy

My 2018 preview.

It was another wait-and-see year for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, with one big twist--the beginning of a slow goodbye for the New York Islanders--but continued delays for towers, a lost (mostly) 421-a subsidy for condos, and new skepticism about unfilled not-so-affordable housing units.

So ongoing questions linger regarding the project's pace, affordability, and even future ownership.

In my 2017 preview, I predicted--not exactly going out on a limb--that two and likely three more towers would open, though it would be unclear how fast they'd lease up and sell.

Indeed, we've learned that the middle-income below-market units at 461 Dean (which opened in 2016) and 535 Carlton have leased very slowly, while it's too soon to assess progress for commensurate units at 38 Sixth. (At 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth, middle-income units make up half the "100% affordable" buildings.) Meanwhile, many apartments are up for rent at the 550 Vanderbilt condo buildin…