Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Atlantic Yards as Seen from Across the Pond: "A Project Recalls Mistakes of the Past"

September 28th, 2006 · No Comments

From a story in the new Economist headlined “Up in Arms About the Yards: A project recalls mistakes of the past,” comes a very interesting take on Atlantic Yards. We’re going to excerpt some of the story here:

The Atlantic Yards, in the heart of Brooklyn, are now nothing more than a sunken set of tracks where trains are cleaned. But if all goes as planned, the yards and the blocks around will be reborn as 16 glittering towers, with an arena as their crown jewel. The $4.2-billion scheme is one of the most ambitious in New York’s history, and one of the most controversial.

Supporters—including George Pataki, the governor, and Michael Bloomberg, the mayor—say this is a model project, both for its fine design and for its civic-mindedness. Others are less enthralled. Community groups, scrambling to make their point before a period of public comment ends on September 29th, want the project either changed radically or stopped altogether.

Urban renewal in New York has a turbulent history. Under Robert Moses, the “master-builder” who shaped the city from the 1930s to the 1960s, urban renewal became voracious, often using eminent domain to snatch private property and replace lively neighbourhoods with self-contained housing projects that became barren and dangerous. A backlash against Moses ushered in the next era of urban planning, which aimed to improve the existing community rather than replace it.

Bruce Ratner, of Forest City Ratner Companies, hopes to create a new, dazzling model of development with the Atlantic Yards. He is being encouraged by Dan Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development, New York’s most ambitious planner since Moses. The city and state have promised to chip in $100m each and provide a host of tax breaks, possibly worth more than $1 billion…Mr Ratner is working…with the Empire State Development Agency (ESDC), a state body that can sponsor projects without consulting local governments. After two perfunctory public hearings, the ESDC will draw up a final plan for approval by the governor and the speakers of the state Senate and Assembly.

Opponents are not giving up. Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a coalition of 21 community groups, plans to challenge the state’s use of eminent domain, although a Supreme Court decision last year allows condemnation in the name of economic development. Others, resigned to Mr Ratner’s scheme, are turning to Eliot Spitzer, the attorney-general and likely next governor, to ask him to curb the power of the ESDC, which is backing other big plans in the city. New York is being reshaped; the question is how.

We’ve cut out some detail, so it’s worth going to the full article. We’re particular amused by the writer’s introduction of Robert Moses into the story and the point he makes about how Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff is the city’s “most ambitious planner since Moses.” Of course, depending on how one chooses to read this, it’s either a tremendous compliment or as nasty slap in the face.

We’ve made the analogy many times, in the sense that Doctoroff has certainly hatched some of the biggest development schemes in seen in several generations and will be responsible for pushing projects in New York, and particularly Brooklyn, that will work dramatic changes. Whether they are superb changes or nightmarish ones, of course, depends on one’s point of view. But, if one comes back and look at Brooklyn 25 year from now, many of the most dramatic changes that one will see–like a dense, highrise core in Brooklyn and a redeveloped waterfront peppered with highrises stretching from Newtown Creek to Sunset Park and, ultimately, to Coney Island–will be the result of Doctoroff’s machinations.

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