Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Morning After: Dr. Ratlove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Atlantic Yards

What can you say about yesterday's vote by the Public Authorities Control Board to approve the Atlantic Yards project? The decision--and the project that may grow from it--will change Brooklyn forever, and will have a profound impact on the communities that are nearest to it. We understand that some people are cheering--quite loudly--today. We respect their opinions, but feel very differently about the project and its impact on the the neighborhoods around it.

The fact that Atlantic Yards was designed and approved with only minimal genuine public input and was the result of a process that only sought to create the appearance of responsiveness and inclusion will saddle Brooklyn with a project that we're pretty certain will prove to be a boil on the landscape in decades to come. Genuine community planning and inclusion would have produced a less disruptive development and one that would be more conducive to everything from a better streetscape to less neighborhood disruption. Instead, Atlantic Yards will serve as a monument to the Jobs and Housing Uber Alles School of Urban Economic Development from which it came.

As such, the approval of Atlantic Yards and its broad support in the political establishment is part of a grand tradition of tossing common sense to the wind and throwing massive subsidies at those who build manufacturing facilities and offices. And, it is in keeping with the longstanding practice of deep subsidies and tradeoffs for professional sports teams, stadiums and arenas. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The only real difference between Atlantic Yards and a story we could have written 20 years ago is that Brooklyn has been hornswaggled largely on the basis of "affordable housing" rather than jobs. As such, Atlantic Yards is a reflection of the desperate affordable housing situation in New York City. A developer could probably site a nuclear waste repository in the borough if he promised to build a few thousand apartments on top of the storage caverns, swore up and down that the radiation would only amount to a few extra dental x-rays a year and produced an "independent" consultant's report that concluded "Don't Worry, be Happy."

The fallout of the Altantic Yards decision--and the unwillingness to make any significant reductions in density or to fully address impacts from traffic to pollution--will change Brooklyn in fundamental ways. Start with a decade of massive construction projects at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Then, consider the impact of block upon block of highrises, and you begin to get the picture of the legacy that Gov. Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, Empire State Development Corp. Chair Charles Gargano, Borough President Marty Markowitz, developer Bruce Ratner and all of the other officials, both public and private, who pushed this development through will leave to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We're not convinced that in 25 years they'll be saying "Go Nets!" so much as "Screw this traffic."

There are those that are cheering yesterday's decision as a victory for jobs and housing and as a return of big-time professional sports to Brooklyn. In its own way, Atlantic Yards will bring those things. But at what cost? Brooklyn's soul has been sold to achieve those goals. And, now, we're going to have to deal with the consequences.

Of course, the legal system has yet to have its say and there is much litigation to come before the plan is a final reality. Eminent domain and the deeply flawed public process that produced the Atlantic Yards plan could still be its downfall.

Us, we're reminded of a hooting and howling Slim Pickens, as Major T. J. "King" Kong, at the end of Dr. Strangelove riding the H-Bomb down from a B-52 (the embed above). Yes, it's a bit of an excessive comparison, but if you get Atlantic Yards, then you get the analogy. And, if not, give it 15 or 20 years. By that time, the gridlock will be of epic proportions, neighborhoods will have been ruined, all of the promised "affordable" housing still won't have materialized, Bruce Ratner will have sold out and moved on, the Nets will have gotten a better deal from another town or used it to squeeze more money out of Brooklyn and residents will be muttering, "How did we let that happen?"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

sad news, great writing.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous henry said...

Your emphasis on traffic bewilders me. We don't live in Miami or Atlanta where the only way from a to b is by car. To a certain degree the congestion of the city creates the need for mass transit. Most drivers know not to tangle with the Belt, and choose not to commute by car, for example, and numerous studies show that an increase in capacity only worsens the problem. The corollary then, is that more congestion will decrease car traffic, as yet another major junction becomes the sole domain of hardcore drivers who will put up with gridlock, and there will be more pressure to create better mass transit alternatives. Similarly, we need housing and can no longer build out, so we need to build up, and while nobody craves living in the shadow of skyscrapers (unless like thousands of manhattanites they enjoy the view) areas like bedstuy, ocean parkway, coney island, etc. have a fair amount of buildings over 10 stories and the residents seem to manage the aesthetic assault, as it has been portrayed. I think we need to allow for the fact that a major architect is involved, and we would rather that then rezoning that allows for far less adventurous designs at the hands of less accomplished designers. Buildings like the lever building, the row of towers on 6th Avenue in the 50's. etc. went from hot to cold and back to hot. Even the twin towers had some fans. I just think we need to keep the long view, and focus our attention on projects that will really result in a less affordable, less livable borough and city.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Ned said...

glad you guys lost.

i, for one, want there to be some big freakin buildings in brooklyn so that i have a PLACE TO LIVE in 20 years.

never understood the debate. the architect isn't good enough for you? do you have a problem with the Richard Meier building on Plaza St., too?

this project is going to go down like the smoking ban.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous not erica said...

That is the best writing of yours I've ever read. I thought I was gonna need a cigarette when I finished.

Gott, daaaaayum.

11:24 PM  

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