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Seven Years to Develop 22 Acres with 22 Left

The New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Monday, March 1, 2009, rejected the final legal challenge by homeowners and businesses to the state’s use of eminent domain for the $4.9 billion, 22-acre Atlantic Yards project (see TimesTopics for more). The news triggered a groundbreaking for March 11, 2009.

How much ground will be broken remains unknown to all, even the developer, Bruce Ratner, is reportedly unsure.  One thing is sure, the general failure of effective criticism of the plan.  Perhaps this was in deference to the mere political disruption of those whose lives and businesses are forever changed.  Perhaps not. Time remains to go on the record regarding the architectural failure of superblocks and the lives of the ‘new people’ or to examine the distracted inability of the MTA and the DOT to address serious public safety questions given the plan as it stands. Where is

the law that protects future residents?

The Other 22

New York State officials will force the last 22 families and companies to move out of the Atlantic Yards project footprint if they don’t leave voluntarily by April 3, 2010.  It began with several hundred families and businesses. Still, Errol Lewis summed it all up best as a reporter for the Daily News and a long time observer of New York’s uniquely imprudent politic.

The seven-year slog leading up to today’s ribbon-cutting on the Atlantic Yards project demonstrates why New York must rethink and restructure the way it handles big land deals.

Nearly no one on either side of the debate over the planned 18,000-seat arena and 6,400 units of housing – not even the winning developer, Forest City Ratner – thinks the process was fair, balanced, and rational.

There were too many lawsuits, too many unanswered questions, and too many heated arguments. Worst of all, the years of bickering and delay have left behind bitterness and civic exhaustion just when we need energy, enthusiasm, and public scrutiny to make Atlantic Yards a success.

I would have readers interested in the urban development process in general and in this part of Brooklyn specifically, to notice Errol’s criticism in this way. The enormously accurate criticisms of the Atlantic Yards plan from an architectural, urban planning, and design perspective are ineffective. Despite grievous errors of design, the less evident event is the obituary of effective architectural criticism. I would settle for useful.

As Lewis points out, the measure of success is tragically blurred, and the lessons learned are painfully slow and easily forgotten.  Our society has the authority to engage in the destruction of one community as a constitutionally guaranteed process for building a new one.

Lewis is right. We must question the current criterion that suggests we are actually making a place better or more life-affirming or more environmentally sound, not just environmentally neutral.

We are currently limited to writing the postmortem. Given the desire to correct mistakes before they are made,  what steps could be taken to give a community affected more control over a design and development process that the law of our land has already deemed inevitable? How can the rules of engagement for community development practices eliminate our tragic acceptance of collateral damage?


The history of keeping things “out of your back yard” begins with demonstrable adverse health problems caused by pollution, but it does not end there.  It has advanced to the critique of poorly chosen land uses, how it affects others over time and the kind of society the uses produce.  What happens in this section of a growing Downtown Brooklyn is now one of those questions.  What quality of society will we produce here?

For now, look at it as the collision of two interests. One is private and predictive toward profitable returns. The other is public and prescriptive toward resolving the errors committed to pursuing the first interest, whether the errors were predictable or not.  The contrast between the known and feared leads to expressions of due diligence that prove efforts are made to anticipate damages conducted through project approval and evaluation procedures capable of constant improvement.  In this way, living in the world may not be risk-free, but the path to it is both predictable and prescribed. 

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Atlantic Yards

Conflict of Interest & Violations of Conduct

The Board fined a Commissioner for the City Planning Commission (CPC) $4,000 for voting in favor of a development plan which would benefit another project in which the Commissioner was an investor.

The CPC Commissioner acknowledged that she voted in favor of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, which development plan included a proposal to modify the definition of “commercial” for certain areas in Brooklyn covered by the plan. One of the areas subject to this modification was located at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, also known as Site 6A, an area that was also part of the private development plan for the building of a stadium for the Nets basketball team and related real estate development, in which plan the Commissioner was an investor.

By voting in favor of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, the Commissioner conferred a benefit on this private development plan, known as the Atlantic Yards Project, by providing it with the potential ability to use Site 6A for residential as well as commercial use under the modified definition of -commercial. The CPC Commissioner acknowledged that by voting in favor of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, she violated the City’s conflicts of interest law, which prohibits a public servant from using or attempting to use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or another private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant. COIB v. Williams, COIB Case No. 2004-517 (2007).  Source: Law of the Land blog


As above:

Seek out sources of criticism and analysis on the lunatic yards:

UDC Committee Member Policy Development

Goals, Objectives and Strategies
What Planners and Urban Designers Really Think About: Atlantic Yards:
It is big (very), it is bad (ugly is relative), and it is unfortunate, but so what?

The Exhausting Details

Put an End to Super Blocking.  Yea!  We did it! (you the wo(man) send you a bundle)

Make a serious run at the fact checkers. Get to the point where we will be more interested in finding ways to move the goal posts or wag the dog, and so on.

Draft up a major set of questions by type/scope (about 1,000 of them) for the Draft EIS all with a demand for metrics.


The long anticipated Atlantic Center project broke ground on 30 September 1994. Recall the vision of the late Harry Simmons on housing and compare that with the result NYCHP result€¦ The public was assured that 365,000 square foot retail development and a 650 car garage would be developed.

The leasing plan assured a substantial portion of Atlantic Center as a Bradley’s and a Pathmark. The Pathmark is a standard 50-70K and the Bradley de jure is 100 to 150K, and leaves over 100K in small retail store, vendors, and the like. In the second phase (estimated correctly to be within five years) an additional 442,000 square feet of retail space and a 450-car garage was developed.

The proof is in; the Ratner development team tends to do what it says it will do.

Question: Is this about a sports image or a massive housing development plan? Mike Lupica Bruce is selling a massive housing project as a sports deal. So in large type:

Separate housing from housing. Get more than an M0U on the school site from the usual suspects and set a deadline for deadline renewal.
Isolate all answers to the housing who question that fall firmly into the category of an “it depends” This allows us to frame the debate, a planning issue defined as “delay, lack of results, poor product.”
Press for an op-ed style debate. (well that worked)

Is this Deal or No Deal?

One of the great community assets is its long memory of past events and promises. With the gift of term-limits, there are new rules. All useful agreements with term limited city council members must not become, of necessity contractual signed agreements. They are broken at the political risk of the next election and can stay in force regardless of the next representative. Following, are suggested components for debate.

In the spirit of no one is as smart as all of us, working a list into a MYSQL format is useful.  Plugging in the metrics that each heading/issue demands is the only way to get it organized to search for things like “automobiles” on site, by time of day, private or public, parked or moving.

Any group of people can refine this well enough to express a planning values matrix as a matter of balance if not power and for the record.  It manages the exhausting details for history.  The goal (win or lose) is to represent what’s right? in our collective minds in Ratner’s financial value matrix. In other words, the argument should be on quality and thereafter on whether or not “the development” will produce $20 billion vs. $10 billion in revenue.

There is No Deal Without a Clear Understanding of the Whole Deal
There is a Deal on a sensitive approach to scale and place.
Following is a tactical outline. Massive integrated project outline anyone?

Remember the only three main points on every issue that are important:

1) Is it true?
2) Is it logical?
3) Is it moral?

Use these questions on every issue.  From the total number of apartments to the percent that will means tested or stabilized, owned or rented with offsite parking or not, and so on.

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