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In yesterday’s Times, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff followed up his excoriation of Related Companies’ Hudson Yards proposal with an editorial on big development projects and their accompanying architectural renderings. These renderings, he writes, undermine democratic process:

“As the battles over mammoth-scale development grow more heated, developers and their marketing teams have become extremely cautious about the information they release before a project passes review, for fear of inciting a public outcry… The images released to the public are often restricted to a few renderings that are carefully scrutinized in advance by marketing experts. As a result the public is often left without the visual tools it needs to make thoughtful judgments about a development’s impact.”

Ouroussoff once again uses the Hudson Yards as his example, but this phenomenon goes far beyond this one project. Atlantic Yards Report has a breakdown of these tactics at work in Brooklyn. After the jump, another choice recent example.

Read the rest of this entry »


As the saga of Atlantic Yards continues, with some papers calling the project “dead” and others warning that it has simply been slowed by the faltering economy but could still be built (see this AYR breakdown of the coverage), the trailer for Isabell Hill’s AY documentary “Brooklyn Matters” has finally made its way to YouTube.

This documentary explores the ramifications of the project as proposed and the controversy surrounding it. It features a number of Community-Based Planning Task Force members, including Council Member Letitia James, Kent Barwick of the Municipal Art Society, Tom Angotti of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, and Ron Shiffman of the Pratt Center for Community Development. (Shiffman and Angotti both worked on the community-based UNITY plan for the yards). Watch the trailer below, and visit for information about upcoming screenings, including one tomorrow night at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Ft. Greene.

Today’s Atlantic Yards Report has an interesting analysis of City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden’s recent interview on CUNY TV’s City Talk, in which she spoke about creating balanced growth in New York City, and about building community consensus around rezonings. Her comments shed light on her perspective about community-based planning (example: She agrees with the host’s assertion that what she wants is “esthetic democracy” because, “it’s better if it’s theirs; it’s more authentic, it’s real.”)

The post goes on to note that when it comes to substance rather than aesthetics, there can be a disconnect between community goals and City Planning’s actions, exemplified by DCP’s rezonings of Greenpoint-Williamsburg and Downtown Brooklyn. AYR’s message seems to be, once again: don’t be fooled by pretty pictures.

Also of note on AYR this week: Crain’s reports that the Atlantic Yards project has a 50% chance of being built.  However, according to the Daily Eagle, Forest City Ratner is one of only four developers that will receive the state’s allocation for tax exempt bond housing funds for the project.

Task Force Members Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn are hosting a meeting on March 13 to update the community about the status of the Atlantic Yards project.  Their email states, “Many rounds of legal and political fighting remain in the struggle against Atlantic Yards” and they invite the public to find out why:

Community Meeting: Update on the Struggle Against Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Project and For Sensible Development
Thursday, March 13, 7pm
Hanson Place United Methodist Church. Main Sanctuary
Church Address:144 Saint Felix Street at Hanson Place
*Enter at Hanson Place [Map]
Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Subways: 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, R, Q to Atlantic/Pacific

This Saturday, opponents of Atlantic Yards held a community meeting focused on creating an expanded alternative plan for the Atlantic Yards footprint to accompany the UNITY Plan. Since Friday, Atlantic Yards Report has been all over some big news related to the site.

First, we learned that developer Bruce Ratner’s request for an expedited hearing of a pending lawsuit in state appellate court involving the project’s environmental impact statement was denied — the case will be heard in September. This delays the project further, with AY’s Norman Oder speculating that the earliest the arena could now open would be the 2011-2012 season.

Next, Oder reports that a Brooklyn woman who signed a lease to open a daycare center in the AY footprint, apparently unaware that the property was slated for demolition, received a $103k settlement from Ratner.

And finally, AYR has an in-depth look at a new flyer touting the projects very controversial community benefits agreement. This points in particular to the promised benefit of affordable housing, with no mention of the recent news that creation of the promised 2250 subsidized rentals and 600 to 1000 affordable for-sale units has been jeopardized by the current crisis in availability of affordable housing bonds.

Did anyone attend Saturday’s meeting? We would love to hear a report…

Two Task Force members, The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods the Hunter College Center for Community Preservation and Development, both sponsors of the UNITY Plan for Atlantic Yards, are hosting a community meeting on Saturday about the site’s future:

What if our community was given a voice in planning redevelopment over and around the Vanderbilt rail yards?
What’s your vision for our neighborhood’s future?

The original UNITY Plan, the community-created alternative to Forest City Ratner’s “Atlantic Yards” project, covered only the publicly owned Vanderbilt rail yards.  FCR has since taken control of and blighted or torn down many properties around the rail yards. But now the financing for “Atlantic Yards” is in doubt, even according to the developer – the bond financing for the arena and the affordable housing may not be feasible! What happens next?

Join your neighbors, elected officials and expert planners for a public workshop devoted to creating a community plan for the entire area – now that the global credit crisis threatens to scuttle “Atlantic Yards.”

Saturday, MARCH 1, 2008
10 am to 2 pm
St. Cyril’s Belarusian Cathedral
401 Atlantic Avenue (at Bond Street)
RSVP to Hunter College CCPD at 212-650-3328

On the horizon: As the City and developers look to create a new neighborhood at the mouth of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, a.k.a. Greenwich St. South, Downtown Express reports that Manhattan Community Board 1 is calling for affordable housing, parks (such as the one in the rendering shown here, from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation), and neighborhood-oriented retail.

Affordable housing in crisis: Last week, The Real Deal reported on the dwindling availability of low-income housing tax credits, while this week, Crain’s examined threats to financing of 80/20 affordable housing projects. Today, the Brooklyn Paper reports that lack of financing is stalling a major mixed-income project in Downtown Brooklyn, and Atlantic Yards Report considers what this all might mean for Atlantic Yards.

Speaking of Atlantic Yards, today Streetsblog wonders: why are we still building superblocks? (It is worth noting here that the community-driven UNITY Plan for Atlantic Yards does not include superblocks.)

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle visits the Imagine Flatbush 2030 community visioning workshops, which the local Council Member calls, “a new, interesting and important way of looking at sustainable neighborhood development.” The next meeting Feb. 27 at Brooklyn College (see calendar for details).

We would like to welcome the newest member organization to the Community-Based Planning Task Force: the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods!

According to their website, “The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods grew out of a series of discussions Brooklyn Boro President Marty Markowitz held in the Spring of 2004 with members of a number of community groups to better understand their concerns regarding the proposed development of the Brooklyn Atlantic/Vanderbilt Yards.  During these discussions it became clear to all concerned that a development of this scope would require the participation of as many sectors of the community as possible. The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods is composed of community groups, business groups and churches in Community Board Districts 2, 3, 6, and 8. ”

The organization was very active in informing the public about Bruce Ratner’s development plans, criticizing the project’s Environmental Impact studies, and was a sponsor of the recently-released alternative, community-based UNITY Plan for the site.

For more information about how your organization can join the Community-Based Planning Task Force, please contact us.

Today a Federal court dismissed the lawsuit against the government’s use of eminent domain to seize properties and turn them over to developer Bruce Ratner for construction of the Atlantic Yards mega-development project.  The lawsuit was an appeal of an earlier decision, brought by 14 homeowners, business owners and tenants who live and work in the future development footprint.

In a statement, the plantiffs’ attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff said, “Today’s decision is disappointing. We disagree with its conclusion. We intend to ask the US Supreme Court to hear our case, and will continue to pursue every avenue available to prevent the unlawful seizure of my clients’ homes for Bruce Ratner’s enrichment.” 

However, according to The Real Estate, “The rejection leaves opponents with few legal avenues left, as the appellants on the lawsuit would need a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to merely be granted a trial in the case, let alone to come out victorious. Critics had said they put their highest hopes at the federal appellate level, and have previously conceded that it was unlikely the Supreme Court would take the case (the court only hears a few dozen cases a year).”

For now, it seems the best hope for the demise of Atlantic Yards may be Bruce Ratner’s widely reported financing troubles.  However, on Wednesday, the City Council denied an attempt by Brooklyn politicians to cut Ratner’s millions of dollars in public subsidies.  Brownstoner has a list of the demolitions expected inside the footprint over the next few weeks.

Image of anti-eminent domain message on Prospect Heights building via Daily Heights.

In the Inbox today, a message from Task Force members Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn:

“The fight against the Atlantic Yards project–and the broken process it symbolizes–has lasted more than four years now, and DDDB and the community are not giving up. Friday’s ruling by NY Supreme Court Judge Madden against the challenge, by 26 community groups, to the state’s environmental review and approval of Atlantic Yards, is indeed a disappointment and a punch in the gut.

But it’ll take more than a punch in the gut to knock us down. And more than the Borough President cheering the court’s decision against the community.

We believe the ruling was wrongly decided. The community plaintiffs will appeal the decision. Our fundamental claims are strong and valid, and we trust that the Appellate Court will give our appeal proper consideration, as the law requires. We are optimistic the court will reverse Judge Madden’s decision.

And let us be clear: Atlantic Yards cannot move forward while thirteen plaintiffs–homeowners, business owners and tenants–are in federal court in a separate case challenging New York State’s unconstitutional use of eminent domain. We expect to prevail in that lawsuit.”

Rendering of a view of AY from the Dean St. Playground via DDDB.

Since 2000, The Community-Based Planning Task Force has been leading the effort to create a more meaningful role for communities in New York City’s planning and decision-making processes.

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