Monday, September 25, 2006

"Brooklyn Speaks," But Who Will Listen?

Well, the BrooklynSpeaks website--which is dedicated to trying to make changes in the Atlantic Yards proposal--went live last night. At first glance, it certainly covers the ground that one would expect including the out-size scale of the development and the top-down process that has gone forward without meaningful local input. It takes some tough stands and is highly critical of the process thus far, although it takes it as a given that the arena will be built and is really there to offer guidelines to mitigate its impact.

The groups behind BrooklynSpeaks are Atlantic Avenue LDC, Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Fifth Avenue Committee, Municipal Art Society, Park Slope Civic Council, Pratt Area Community Council, Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

While we have respect for these entities, and particularly for the role that the Municipal Art Society has taken citywide over many decades, we must note some signficant omissions from the list. Despite the "wide net" sounding name, BrooklynSpeaks does not speak for many concerned Brooklynites. We also note the possibility that BrooklynSpeaks will lead to division in the opposition to Atlantic Yards or that it will be seen as such, which will be damaging. By adding another level of nuance and set of opinions to those already on the table, it could also serve to confuse what is already a terribly confusing issue for the average resident.

There is too much to get into here, but basic principles listed on the BrooklynSpeaks site are:
1. Respect and integrate with surrounding neighborhoods
2. Include a transportation plan that works
3. Include affordable housing that meets the community’s needs
4. Involve the public in a meaningful way
(Norman Oder offers his usual thoughtful and complete analysis over at Atlantic Yards Report.)

On the pressing issue of scale, the group says that the project needs to be "substantially reduced" and says that substantial reductions "might be" from 1/3 to 1/2. The group also calls for a greater proportion of genuine affordable housing and it is critical of the public process so far, calling it "deeply troubling":
The Atlantic Yards proposal was conceived by the developer and the political decision-makers behind closed doors and has moved forward with no significant input from New Yorkers. No Brooklyn official will get to vote on the project.
Overall, it calls the proposal "deeply flawed." The group calls for "a redesign with public input."

That statement aside, our first impression is that the site takes a tougher stand on some issues than we might have expected, but also pulls some punches and uses some soft words like "might." The group mentions eminent domain as an issue, but does not take a stand on it and, in effect, accepts that it will be used, which is certain to alienate some of the Brooklynites that have been fighting the project.

Develop Don't Destroy's Daniel Goldstein points out that the BrooklynSpeaks groups "support eminent domain and support the arena" or, at the very least, "accept" both. In point of fact, the website section on "superblocks" shows property that would have to be taken by eminent domain as part of the project.

Sponsors are holding a press conference about the site at 3:30 this afternoon.

And so, some very respected groups have decided that it's advantageous to steer their own course on Atlantic Yards at this point. The more important questions, however, are: Who will listen and will it matter?

UPDATE: Early this afternoon, Develop Don't Destroy posted an item on its website saying that it "welcomes more voices" in the Atlantic Yards discussion but that "they have failed to hear the voice of the community on the issues of the arena, eminent domain abuse, city oversight of the proposal, the unknown public cost, the severe environmental impacts, and the lack of affordable housing guarantees." The item says that their position on some issues, like eminent domain, "is not immediately apparent to someone who browses their website" and that it might result in some people "unwittingly signing on to their principles."

It says: "We call for the BrooklynSpeaks group to be forthright and clear on their position on eminent domain and the arena, and so that individuals who sign onto their 'principles' understand that by doing so, they are explicitly endorsing the arena and implicitly endorsing use of eminent domain."

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