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

Prescience from the December 2003 Brooklyn Rail: "such guidelines must not leave affordable housing construction to chance"

Just before Atlantic Yards was even announced, anthropology graduate student--and now professor--David Vine--was raising some very important issues in The Brooklyn Rail, with his Winter 2003 article titled Billions for Brooklyn—No Questions Asked. His wise bottom line was that affordable housing should've been required.

The emerging projects he described did not include Atlantic Yards, which had been floated but not officially announced. But clearly much was brewing, as he wrote:
On the Brooklyn waterfront, a $150 million Brooklyn Bridge Park is under construction, with plans for recreational, commercial, and cultural installations. At MetroTech Center, the last office tower in the more than one billion-dollar development is going up. Just down the street in Fort Greene, the 15-story Atlantic Terminal retail and office tower complex soon will be home to everyone from Target and the Gap to the Bank of New York and Starbucks. And across downtown, while the Brooklyn Law School is building dorms and the Brooklyn Marriott is expanding, and lofts are going up in DUMBO and mixed-use commercial/residential space is under construction on the edges of Cobble Hill, major corporations are working to pave the way for even more development.
And even without Atlantic Yards, he noted that "some envision a cohesive area eventually stretching from the waterfront to Grand Army Plaza, almost three miles away." And he warned that "the borough’s new power brokers are driven by primarily self-interested goals—i.e. profit making—with little regard to the damage—i.e. displacement-heavy gentrification—that their projects are likely to have."

Downtown Brooklyn powers

It's almost quaint, since he discusses the "Downtown Brooklyn Council (DBC), a two-year-old advocacy organization that is part of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce," which was the successor to other groups but which later morphed into the far more powerful Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

The DBC was busy hatching a rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn, which came a year later--and, as we now know, enabled much larger buildings under the rationale of increasing office space, but instead delivered mostly luxury housing.

As to powerful developer Bruce Ratner, the Atlantic Terminal mall, opening in 2004, "represents part of the future." (That also seems almost quaint, since that mall, aimed at somewhat higher-income shoppers than the predecessor sibling Atlantic Center, is no longer owned by Forest City Ratner and is being positioned by new owner Madison International Realty as going more upscale.)

Wrote Vine regarding the Bank of New York office tower attached to the mall:
At a height rivaling the clock tower on the Williamsburg Savings Bank building, Atlantic Terminal will, in the words of one Forest City Ratner representative, "gesture deferentially" to the landmark (many Fort Greene residents, of course, interpret it as a rather different sort of gesture).
Actually, that angled-roof building does gesture somewhat deferentially, especially compared to the unbuilt "Miss Brooklyn" tower designed by Frank Gehry for Atlantic Yards, as well as some other towers built since then. (The 300 Ashland tower does have a cutout to allow for views of the clock tower.)

Gentrification coming

Wrote Vine:
There is, as much as I may have wanted to find one, no singly organized conspiracy among the downtown elites to transform Brooklyn by gentrifying it, one mega-project to the next, from the Brooklyn Bridge Park to BAM and beyond. There is, however, a common recognition among members of the business elite that gentrification serves their interests by bringing more affluent residents—that is, potential charge-card-laden customers—to live in and around neighborhoods downtown.
Part of that, he wrote, is an arts-focused strategy:
It should be no surprise, then, that Ratner is at the center of BAM’s plans for a Cultural District in the slightly off-center neighborhood of Fort Greene. 
A residential future

Wrote Vine:
A high-ranking Forest City Ratner executive recently explained to me that the future is "very logical": "MetroTech is an anchor. Atlantic Terminal is an anchor." With this combination of office and retail space and transportation linking the rest of the city, there lies an "opportunity for residential growth in between."
Such residential growth would be perfect news to many in Fort Greene (and around the city) who have been clamoring for more affordable housing as one anecdote to displacement. Except that if Forest City is building on its BAM site (and I cannot see Ratner giving up the city-designated development rights), market rate rather than affordable housing will carry the day—and with it, the likelihood of higher housing prices and further gentrification in the neighborhood will greatly increase.
That was right, in terms of the big picture, though wrong in specifics. Forest City didn't have a BAM site, as far as I know. But it did get the Atlantic Yards site.

Vine also noted that Forest City passed on the opportunity to build the affordable housing component--modular townhouses--as part of Atlantic Center, but passed, given that margins were too low. That, of course, would change.

The bottom line

Vine noted that development and new amenities were not necessarily bad, but that "we should not be deceived by claims that such projects are purely serving the public good." The question is who to trust:
Brooklyn’s new power brokers will argue that they support affordable housing, and, as Ratner recently said, housing for "a spectrum" of income levels. Yet at an Economic Development Summit in Brooklyn this past November, Ratner pointed to DUMBO—not exactly a shining example of a mixed-income community (unless you count rapidly disappearing illegal conversions)—as an "indicator" that it is "now time" for residential development in downtown Brooklyn. With DUMBO as his model, not to mention his resistance to building affordable housing in the first place, we should not be surprised if Ratner’s housing "spectrum" doesn’t dip so low after all.
When Atlantic Yards was announced, Ratner's housing "spectrum" did seem to dip lower. But those configurations were not required.

His conclusion:
Building affordable housing and preventing further gentrification cannot be left to vague promises and lofty hopes. If it is going to get built, affordable housing must become a hard obligation: as a requirement of developers and corporations in exchange for subsidies; as a city funding priority more important than culture, parks, and Grade A office space; and, finally, as a central part of the set of badly-needed guidelines governing development throughout downtown Brooklyn. To be successful, such guidelines must not leave affordable housing construction to chance or rely on the self-interest of downtown’s power elite.
Instead, as we now know, Downtown Brooklyn and Park Slope's Fourth Avenue were upzoned without requiring affordability, and mandatory affordable housing only came later, when Bill de Blasio succeeded Mike Bloomberg in the mayoralty.

That's why the affordable housing in the Atlantic Yards seemed so potent, and remains an important numerical goal, even if the affordability levels lag far behind what was promised.

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