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Showing posts from January, 2007

Blight, 1938: it's about profitability

A visit yesterday to the new exhibition at Columbia University, Robert Moses & the Modern City: Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution, turned up this quote from Mabel Walker's 1938 book Urban Blight and Slums:
"Blight is a condition where it is not profitable to make or maintain improvements."

These days, of course, blight is more complicated, involving, according to the Empire State Development Corporation, underutilization and poor maintenance. At the same time, lots just across the street from the project site have been developed and other adjacent units sell well.

City Hall, obfuscatorily, admits doubling AY funding

The City of New York has more than doubled the $100 million it pledged to the Atlantic Yards project, though a spokesman yesterday offered an explanation that left some questions unanswered.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg's capital budget, released last Thursday, includes $205 million designated for Atlantic Yards, though the city had earlier agreed only to $100 million.

The news didn't generate much scrutiny until I raised the issue on Saturday and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) sent out a press release yesterday declaring the increase part of the "blank check" known as “extraordinary infrastructure costs.”

City Hall confirmation

I contacted City Hall Friday morning, asking about the source of the funds and the relationship to "extraordinary infrastructure costs," but didn't get a response.

Yesterday afternoon, after sending a reminder, I received the following response from Deputy Press Secretary John Gallagher: "The additional funding is for infrast…

Section 8 boost means 22,000 families housed affordably

Yesterday, on the same day that we learned that the city had agreed to put another $105 million into Atlantic Yards infrastructure, came some interesting news about a nearly equivalent sum.

A federal infusion of $100 million--nationwide, but significantly in New York--means that 22,000 low-income New Yorkers will gain Section 8 vouchers over the next two years.

That's significant, because New York's waiting list for the federal Section 8 program--which offers subsidies so households pay only 30 percent of their income in rent--closed in 1994, leaving a 127,000 people in the lurch.

Those eligible for Section 8 can earn up to half the median income--$35,450 for a four-person household. Among the 2250 affordable rental units planned for the Atlantic Yards project, 900 would be within the Section 8 income limits.

90 a year at AY?

If the project were to be completed in ten years, assuming the developer's best-case scenario, that would mean 90 units a year for households also waiting…

Roger Green, CBN, & $100K--an alternative sequence

This may seem like old news, but it’s worth a closer look, especially now that the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) is asking people and member organizations to lobby Brooklyn Assembly members to release the $100,000 promised last year—and blocked by then Assemblyman Roger Green—to pay consultants for their already-completed review of the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

Because something doesn’t ring true about Green’s explanation for his denial of $100,000 in state funds he controlled. Green told the Brooklyn Papers that he withdrew his support for CBN’s request because of hurtful, racially charged remarks by members and supporters of CBN and project opponents.

However, the main example cited—an email comment by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s (DDDB) Daniel Goldstein—was made before Green privately confirmed his support to a delegation from CBN. (The reps from CBN probably wish they’d gotten it in writing.)

So Green’s explanation doesn’t wash. Instead…

Ouroussoff: Gehry faces a developer's constraints in L.A., too

Let's try to decode New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff's new take on Frank Gehry's latest Los Angeles project, in a handwringing essay today headlined Corner of Art and Commerce in Los Angeles. Ouroussoff sets out the question:
Designed by Mr. Gehry for the New York-based Related Companies, the master plan for the site, a choice parcel directly across from Disney Hall, provides a case study for one of the most pressing issues in architecture today. Can the bottom-line world of mainstream development produce something of architectural value at enormous scale? Or is Mr. Gehry simply there to provide a veneer of cultural pretension?
(Gehry rendering via New York Times)

Ouroussoff seems doubtful that Gerhy can achieve his goals, echoing his essay last June in which he lamented some of the compromises involved in Atlantic Yards but offered only the gentlest of criticisms of the starchitect.

Ouroussoff details Gehry's challenges and compromises in drawing up p…

Times fails to correct Moses story, despite ample warning

On Wednesday, after I posted my critique of the New York Times's story to be published today (and already online) on Robert Moses, I sent a request for corrections to the Times. I pointed out that the article, Rehabilitating Robert Moses, misleadingly cited "the reconstruction of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn," an impossibility, given that Atlantic Yards is the name of a 22-acre project rather than an 8.5-acre railyard.

And I pointed out that, while the article--which today is the lead article in the Arts & Leisure section--suggests that post-Moses projects must go through a gauntlet of approval, it avoids mentioning the Empire State Development Corporation fast track process to which Mayor Mike Bloomberg agreed regarding Atlantic Yards.

No response

I never got a response--often the Times is quick to respond, though not necessarily to provide a coherent explanation. There's no correction in the roundup box on page A2 today. So much for the "journalism of verificat…

$205 million for AY seems to double city's pledge

Mayor Mike Bloomberg's capital budget, released Thursday, includes $205 million designated for Atlantic Yards--a sum far greater than the $100 million formally pledged.

I asked the mayor's press office early yesterday morning for details, but did not get a response by the end of the day.

One explanation may be that the city is relying on a vague clause in a 2005 Memorandum of Understanding to steer more city funds to the project. If so, that opens the door for even more city contributions in the future--a potential Atlantic Yards slush fund.

If not, could the city's capital budget somehow have included the $100 million in state funds also pledged to the project?

Original pledge: $100 million

In the MOU signed 2/18/05 by the city, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), and developer Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), the city agreed to contribute $100 million, as did the state.

The city's portion could be used for site preparation and public infrastructure improve…

Learning from Seattle: a sculpture park and a market

Seattle is quite different from Brooklyn, but citizens there have confronted similar challenges—whether to invest public money in a sports arena, and how best to guide growth—and come up with some interesting and instructive answers, like the new sculpture park depicted at right, an oasis in the midst of development.
(Photo from Seattle Art Museum)

The Seattle experience may not be directly applicable to the Atlantic Yards controversy, but it does suggest that civic debate—which was short-circuited in Brooklyn when the city/state political establishment backed AY from the gate—can produce alternatives.

Arena subsidies?

First, as I’ve noted, a community group called Citizens for More Important Things got a ballot measure passed last year that ensured that any public money toward a new arena would have to generate legitimate financial returns.

That’s served as a brake on the owners of the Seattle SuperSonics, who are now seeking $300 million in public funds for a new arena in the metro …

AY's Stuckey spins on WFAN; opponent Turner attempts brief rebuttal

I finally got a chance to listen to the 1/18/07 “Mike and the Mad Dog” show on WFAN radio, in which hosts Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, rather uninformed about Atlantic Yards, interviewed the smooth-talking Jim Stuckey, president of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Development Group.

Notably, Stuckey downplayed the number of people filing suit to block/stall the project (ten rather than 26), hinted that the unfunded day care and health care facilities in the project would serve all new residents, and claimed that property owners who signed deals to sell to Forest City had "come forth" to praise the developer.

While the same day the Barclays Center deal had been announced, the hosts, who began their discussion before Stuckey got on the line, focused more on the legal issues.

CR: I just spoke to [inaudible] outside, who lives in Brooklyn, 15 minutes away, he thought that–he did not think that there are that many people against it, the eminent domain thing.

MF: There…

Robert Moses revisionism, Atlantic Yards "reconstruction," and the Times

Three upcoming exhibitions in New York herald a revisionist, more welcoming look at master builder Robert Moses, reports the New York Times in a Sunday article (Rehabilitating Robert Moses) just posted online.

Excluded from the main panel discussions--though later added as a solo speaker--is author Robert Caro, whose landmark critical biography, The Power Broker, is deemed by Columbia University's Hilary Ballon as placing too little emphasis on Moses's accomplishments. (The New York Observer has much more on the controversy.)

AY reconstruction?

Caro's biography is, in many ways, an indictment of a passive and cheerleading press, so perhaps it's fitting that this Times article makes two key mistakes regarding the Atlantic Yards project. First, a description:
With the city on the brink of a building boom unparalleled since Moses’ heyday — the reconstruction of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, an overhaul of the Far West Side, sweeping redevelopment downtown — Ms. Ballon and oth…