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

Yes, Atlantic Yards was an example of a "new mega-project," given its nod to broader interests

I recently read Old Mega-Projects Newly Packaged? Waterfront Redevelopment in Toronto, published in the December 2008 issue of International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, by Ute Lehrer and Jennefer Laidley of the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University.

Their article ends with some general observations about mega-projects that have relevance to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park:
While generalizing from the Toronto case to all new mega-projects is not our intent, our work on Toronto’s waterfront redevelopment suggests not only these apparent shifts from ‘old’ mega-project to ‘new’, but also that the new mega-project contains two key aspects that need closer attention. First, while mega-projects seem to have returned as an urban renewal strategy, this reappearance is accompanied by an institutional and political-economic framework that redirects public attention away from controversy and, therefore, from the inherent tendency within the mega-project to re-inscribe and perpetuate inequality and disenfranchisement. In answering criticisms about both the cost overruns and the negative social and environmental impacts of old mega-projects, particularly the tendency of Urban Renewal projects to destroy entire neighbourhoods, the new mega-project takes on the guise of a much broader and more responsive socioeconomic framework. 
(Emphases added)

Indeed, projects like Atlantic Yards, billed as "jobs, housing, and hoops," were presented as efforts at equity, accompanied by a much promoted--but, in the end, unreliable--Community Benefits Agreement.

Seeds of support

The authors continue:
As such, it is not contestable in the way that the old megaproject was, which leads to a situation in which even progressive and left-leaning politicians support waterfront development, becoming active agents in the neoliberal project. While mega-projects of today are as much political projects as those of the past — with the ideological difference that old mega-projects were undertaken in support of societal progress while new mega-projects support interurban global competitiveness — there seems to have been inscribed within them a response to the opposition levelled against their predecessors. 
In the case of Atlantic Yards, some progressive politicians were wary or in opposition, but the particular politics of Brooklyn and New York enabled representatives--some elected, some self-appointed--of the borough's black community to argue that this project represented a progressive approach to jobs and affordable housing.

That was severely in doubt, as confirmed by history, but it was an understandable argument, given the failure of city and state policies to previously address such issues.

Something for all

The authors continue:
The mega-project of today is no longer a single-focus project, but instead is made up of a ‘variety of little bits’ — and therefore seemingly provides something for everyone. In addition, the new mega-project explicitly addresses some of the criticisms aimed at ‘old’ ones by employing various discursive strategies about socioeconomic and environmental benefits as well as public space. The problem that we identify therein is that while these benefits, or rather the discourses forwarding these benefits, allow the new mega-projects to be more readily embraced by a variety of communities, they in fact obfuscate their major beneficiaries and ideologies — most often the development industries rather than the local populace, and the quest for urban status rather than the pursuit of urban inclusion. While these benefits may appear real, we suggest that the discourse about these potential benefits leads to an unreflective acceptance of the apparent necessity for these mega-projects.
Architecture, too

Beyond the promised jobs, affordable housing, and arena for basketball and more, in the case of Atlantic Yards offered great architecture. Remember New York magazine columnist Kurt Andersen, writing in November 2015:
The arena is the anchor of a thoroughly imagined project by an actual developer; basketball seasons have 41 home games instead of 8, thus generating more street life; and the architecture will be the work of a single-minded genius, not a big corporate firm.
Yes, basketball is played more frequently than football (Andersen's comparison), and an arena hosts more events, but the perimeter of the Barclays Center has been curiously inert, with most of the retail unoccupied. The "single-minded genius" was ultimately dropped from the project. But Andersen was
The skewed, cartoony angles of the buildings, which range from 20 to 60 stories, would in one fell swoop create a second, sui generis Brooklyn skyline encompassing the familiar, phallic old Williamsburgh Bank Building. Gehry’s goal is for it to “look like it developed over time. Usually I would bring in other architects to make it look like a city, not like a development.” But many hands at the drawing table (or the CAD screen) is no guarantee of urban quality either: At Battery Park City the result has been, as Ratner says, “a mishmash of architecture.”
Well, now. A skyline, instead, has emerged north and west of the project site, in Downtown Brooklyn. And Gehry is completely gone. The state government, of which project critics and opponents were rightly wary, gave the developer a very long leash, until 2035. So Andersen's conclusion, in hindsight, was overoptimistic:
If Atlantic Yards is completed on schedule, in 2016, he will still be four years younger than Wright was when Wright watched the Guggenheim—his first New York City commission and final masterpiece—being finished.
Involving the public

The York University authors write:
Second, public participation in today’s mega-projects begins, not at the outset of all potential development options, but in the midst of them, foreclosing upon other possibilities from the beginning. There is little or no consideration of options that do not follow the rules of capitalism guided by profit maximization through exchange value. Hence, social practices that are outside the capitalist mode of production are discouraged. In the case of Toronto, examples include not only Yonge-Dundas Square, but also the eviction of people in a squatter settlement along the waterfront called Tent City (Blackwell and Goonewardena, 2004) and the cleaning-up of the various nonconformist social practices taking place at Cherry Beach. We contend that this constitutes a process of urban disenfranchisement and the reproduction of urban inequality.
It wasn't that brutal with Atlantic Yards--the homeless shelter--the residents, at least--was relocated, and homeowners/renters received compensation, some quite handsomely, others far less, given with the costs of staying and leaving. The costs of staying, for some, were pretty brutal.

But the development, yes, was delivered as a "done deal," with no bidding for the entire site and a belated bid for the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard development rights. Thus, the various theaters of public participation, though passionate and illuminating at times, made only a marginal difference.

Update: a comment

Writes footprint neighbor Peter Krashes:
I can’t speak to the relative extent that it was brutal, but it certainly felt so at the time, and in some ways continues to feel that way. You can’t underestimate the disruption caused by a community and its members not being able to plan.

In terms of the specifics, the homeless shelter was relocated? And what about the displacement of the creative sector — or really any commercial renters -- within Atlantic Yards?

In the past you’ve raised the question of whether Atlantic Yards is more a gentrifier, or a project designed to exploit gentrification. I’d argue the latter, and that in some ways it has slowed gentrification in its vicinity in the short (and now medium) term, while perhaps incentivizing speculative real estate investments that may just be biding their time. I personally think that blaming Atlantic Yards for gentrification can function as a deflection that shifts focus from other sources of gentrification that have nothing to do with new development.
In conclusion

The article's authors conclude:
The promise of the old mega-project was to end inequalities; instead, as we now know, they actively created them. And old mega-projects continue to be criticized for their effects on communities and the environment, as well as their deficiencies in the creation of public spaces and their degree of public participation. Our findings for the Toronto case show that, while the rhetoric may imply otherwise, the new mega-project also fails to adequately address socioeconomic inequality and inclusive participation, perpetuating socioeconomic divisions instead. In order to better understand the new mega-project as a distinct approach, as well as the disenfranchisement and urban inequality we see within it, we suggest that further systematic and class-based analysis is required.
That's interesting, because Atlantic Yards was billed as a way to address inequality, and it was embraced by some in that hope, given that the city and state had been unwilling to use the tools--rezonings with mandatory inclusionary housing, most obviously--available to address such inequality.

The lesson of Atlantic Yards is not as simple as saying the powerful imposed their neoliberal will. The project incorporated a lot of hopes and dreams of a better Brooklyn. It turned out, however, to be a "never-say-never" project, with the promises, plans, owners, and timetable all changing--and likely to change further.

That public space is still pretty paltry and, even when completed, will likely be used primarily by the project's new residents (and, maybe, the middle-school students).