Monday, February 25, 2008

GL Analysis: Produce Versus Preservation on Admiral's Row?

The Times City Section, the part of the paper to which many good Brooklyn stories are relegated, finally paid attention yesterday to the issue of Officer's Row, the historic buildings in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that the city wants to demolish to make way for a supermarket and its parking lot. We don't usually critique print media stories--and we'll ignore the bigger issue that the Times can't spare a few inches of print space for Admiral's Row in the Metro section but can find room for a car chase that ends on Smith Street--but we can't resist some editorializing in this case. The article, which weighs in at less than 500 words, unfortunately casts the issue as one of groceries for low-income public housing residents versus vague historic preservation goals. The story does mention both sides of the issue, and support for both preservation and demolition, but one can't help but come away with a sense the writer was spun by the pro-demolition side.

Here's the crux of the Times treatment:
“Those things there? They’ve been there forever,” said Elijah Knox, a resident of the Farragut project who was hurrying across its wind-swept courtyard the other day. “They need to tear them down.

That is precisely the thinking of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, a nonprofit group that oversees the Navy Yard. The city is asking that the National Guard, which owns the property, give the land to the city so that the corporation can demolish the houses and replace them with a supermarket of roughly 60,000 square feet and a large industrial building. Residents of Farragut and two other public housing projects nearby would be given preference in hiring.

Although preservation groups, including the Landmarks Conservancy and the Historic Districts Council, have publicly attacked that proposal, it has met a mostly warm reception among Farragut residents, who regard the vacant town houses as neglected eyesores.

We've made our position on Admiral's Row clear and even gone so far as to suggest that it would be a good thing if the Navy Yard Development Corp. followed through on its threat to walk away from the project if historic preservation is part of the deal. The truth is that it may be more difficult to develop a supermarket and to preserve Admiral's Row, but it is entirely possible and it is totally desirable. The attempt to cast the issue as produce vs. preservation is as divisive and cynical as it is misleading and unfortunate. Brooklynites can have their broccoli and fix up a piece of history at the same time, and it is important that we do both.

It's a sad day when one has to count on the Federal government doing the right thing and protect Brooklyn history and American history from New York City's own political leaders and economic development officials. Yet, that is truly what we hope happens in this case. Admiral's Row deserves to be saved for future generations and local residents deserve their supermarket. Both goals can easily be accommodated.

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