Thursday, April 26, 2007

Blight Me: Is "Developer Blight" a New Brooklyn Tactic?

The other day, protesters were out on Flatbush Avenue to speak out against the "premature demolition" of buildings in the Atlantic Yards footprint by Forest City Ratner. On Sunday, we gazed at the big lot at Bedford Avenue and N. 3rd Street in Williamsburg that is half empty and has had a half-demolished building for almost a year. On Saturday, we were wandering around Coney Island, shooting photos of a huge fence erected by Thor Equities.

Frequently, we wonder: Is manufactured blight the urban development paradigm of the 2000s? Is it a new development tool in Brooklyn?

Quite possibly.

Just as urban renewal in the 1960s devastated communities by literally demolishing entire neighborhoods far in advance of hideous urban renewal schemes or highways that sometimes never materialized, today's Brooklyn development heavyweights are busy tearing down structures--some of them centrally located--far in advance of ever driving a pile or erecting a beam of steel. (Onnyturf recently took a look around and came to the same conclusion.) The implications for communities are as alarming as the clearance efforts that were popular nearly 40 years ago. Those efforts left communities wringing their hands 25 and 35 years later about how to mend the wounds caused by government-driven demolition and projects that either (a). never materialized or (b). were killed by lawsuits or political opposition. (If you want a local look at the results of Old School Developer Blight, check out Edgemere in the Rockways where miles of beachfront property were cleared out by Robert Moses and Mayor John Lindsey. It became one America's most stunning bits of deliberate urban devastation.)

Today, the players are different. They are generally private developers like Forest City Ratner, Thor Equities and Quadriad Development. Generally, (except for Forest City Ratner) they are working on a smaller scale than the urban renewalists of the 20th Century. (And, then, of course, there are massive waterfront conflagrations started by drunks looking for copper wire just as efforts to historically preserve big complexes are underway.) Yet, the impact on neighborhoods--should their schemes fail to come to fruition, will be just as devastating to communities. Imagine Prospect Heights should the courts kill Atlantic Yards. Or, even if you don't believe this is likely, picture entire blocks of Prospect Heights turned into vacant wastelands ten or fifteen years before any stucture is ever built on the land. Or picture, if you will, Coney Island, if Thor Equities follows through on its plans to lay waste to 2/3 of the amusement district and if (a). it can't get its project approved, (b). it takes four or five years before construction can start or (c). it can't get financing or make the project work for investors.

One word: Edgemere.

It's not hard to imagine that one of these orgies of premature demolition won't leave beind a wasteland that an urban writer who is in pre-school today won't be writing about in, say, 2027.

[Photos courtesy of Forgotten NY, which offers excellent background on Edgemere.]

Related Post:
Sitt's Demolition Underway, Coney Island Looks Like Hell

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Richard said...

What was done in Edgemere and neighboring Arverne was criminal. For many, many years there were thriving summer bungalow colonies on the beach blocks of Rockaway stretching from the Beach 60s to the Beach 40s which were torn down for the supposed "development" in the mid-1960s. I spent every summer of my childhood in those bungalows, where my parents had met as teenagers and where my grandparents, great-grandmother, half a dozen great-aunts and -uncles and cousins -- along with other extended families, mostly middle-class Jewish people from the Bronx and Brooklyn -- summered.

Those bungalows were not elegant, but they compare favorably to the little homes I saw when I first went to Kismet, Fire Island, in the 1970s.

On the avenues there was a bustling business district, with restaurants, stores, entertainments and amusements. The boardwalk was also crowded with strollers from dawn to late night. Every Tuesday evenings a fireworks display would bring out thousands. The summer community never fell into a decline, as far as I could tell -- I was in high school when it was razed. It just ran afoul of People With Money.

And so prime Atlantic oceanfront property, so beautiful, ended up lying vacant for decades, utterly unused.

7:10 PM  

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