Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Learning from Newark" in Brooklyn?

The thoughtful--and far too infrequent blog--Brooklyn Views posts this week about "Learning From Newark." Resisting the temptation to be glib about a city that has been robbed blind over the last several decades by one of the most venal municipal governments in all of America, what can Brooklyn learn from the sad case of the Devils arena?

Only that publicly-subsidized, one-sport arenas are a very, very, very bad idea. (Did we say, "very"?) We don't want to fall into the trap of calling Atlantic Yards an arena project, given that it is a massive commercial and residential development that happens to include an arena. The Newark arena was the pet project of one of the nation's slickest (to put it politely) public officials, the inimitable Sharpe James. Mr. James opted not to run earlier this year (after his arena was already rising out of the ground and after he'd been giving a job at the county college and a huge sum of money had been funneled to a nonprofit that he would control). He is now under investigation for the Jet Set lifestyle he enjoyed in his final days in office.

We digress, however. Brooklyn Views notes the New York Times article about the way that Mayor Cory Booker swallowed hard, held his nose and proclaimed that the project he had called a "boondoggle" and a "betrayal of public trust" had morphed into something with which he can live. Mr. Booker--who is a man of great intelligence, high ethics and even greater ambitions--concluded upon taking office that it would be suicide for the city government to try to undo the arena deal. And so, one of America's poorest cities will end up paying $210 million toward the cost of its hockey arena.

Brooklyn Views addresses the planning and design flaws of the project--closing streets, surrounding it with parking, etc. The real point, however, is that with only a hockey team, Newark's arena is going to be one of the Municipal White Elephants of the 2000s. A Nets arena would not automatically exude such a foul stench of financial death. Or would it? With a price tag of $637.2 million, it would be the most expensive arena ever built. That's not quite double the cost of the Newark arena, but close.

Brooklyn Views says:
Why does the Atlantic Yards project need an arena? Would the project financing be more difficult without an arena? Actually no, most believe that the arena will not make money, it requires huge subsidies. Would there be less site area available to provide open space or build housing without an arena? No, there would be more space available; we could build more housing and provide more open space. Would traffic be worse without an arena? No, it would be better. What about the impact on the environment? Better. Opportunities for a vibrant mixed-use community? Much better.

There are those who might be nostalgic about the loss of the Dodgers, and think that Brooklyn has some inalienable right or obligation to host major league sports. If you don’t remember the Dodgers maybe you’re not really a true Brooklynite, and you shouldn’t have a voice in this debate. But most of us, especially those of us who are native New Yorkers, know that what makes us great is not our teams, but our ability to attract talented people, and our acceptance and integration of others. So maybe the new Devils arena is great for Newark, and will make it a great beacon for…sports. But crush loads driving in from the suburbs for sports, or rock concerts, or ice-skating extravaganzas drive out opportunities for a vibrant community, and are not compatible with a vision of a dynamic mixed-use street life in Brownstone Brooklyn. This is not an anti-development sentiment; it is pro-development, pro integrated planned growth that builds on the strengths of the existing urban fabric.
Of course, there is one significant difference between Newark's disaster-in-the-making and Brooklyn's: In Newark, Cory Booker was steadfast in his opposition to the arena, both on the City Council, in his first campaign for mayor and until he was forced to make nice with the Devils. In the case of Atlantic Yards, significant elements of the entire state and local political establishment have lined up behind it. Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer may, or may not, seek to make significant changes in the project. You can bet, though, that some people will be trying to bend his ear to convince him to do so. Meanwhile, taking a page from the Newark play book, backers of the project will be doing everything they can to finalize approvals and send in the bulldozers and construction equipment before anything can be altered.

One can imagine the day when a new mayor or Brooklyn Borough President take office in 2010 who might huff and puff against Atlantic Yards. And, if the project is approved and underway, they will find themselves, like Mr. Booker, unable to blow it down.


Blogger L. Craig said...

I'm irritated by the condescension to Newark and the factual inaccuracy of the commentary. $637.2 million for the Atlantic Yards project is MORE than twice the $310M for the Newark Arena project, not less. And Newark is poor only as a statistical generality, because our rich have tended to move to the close-in suburbs. Think how poor Brooklyn would be, statistically, if Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights were separate towns. There is, however, lots of money in and around Newark. What Newark doesn't have that NYC has is vast inpourings of outside money. We do have some major corporations and a community of present and former Newarkers who want to see Newark come back, and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. A lot of outsiders, especially in arrogant New York City, not merely hang onto but even cherish their outdated, negative views of Newark, as tho our succeeding would somehow take something away from New York rather than contribute to the vitality of the entire region. Such people actually hope the Newark Arena will fail, even tho there is very good reason to expect it to work brilliantly. I decided months ago that words do not suffice to explode misperceptions about Newark, so created and maintain a daily fotoblog about Newark to present visual evidence of how good much of Newark managed to remain thru the bad times and how much better it is now getting, at a good and accelerating pace. It is enuf to object to the Atlantic Yards project on its own merits. Don't drag the Newark Arena into your discussion. It is only dubiously relevant, and since it hasn't even been completed, its success or failure is not knowable. This much is certain: the Newark Arena will be completed. Why not hope it will succeed?

1:27 AM  

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