Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics




A New Name for Our Premier Waterway

A New Name for Our Premier Waterway
Engraving from Currier & Ives, 1892. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

With the Triborough Bridge now known as the R.F.K. Bridge, New York City is evidently in a re-naming mood. May I suggest that we finally lend a proper name to the East River?

The indigenous name for the waterway is murky. The two most credible candidates, Pawkatuck and Muscouta, describe the course as "an estuary with a waterfall" or a "marshy place," respectively, according to Algonquin scholar Evan Pritchard, author of Native New Yorkers: The Legacy of the Algonquin People of New York. The East River never boasted waterfalls, but a treacherous rocky whitewater section was blasted open in the 19th century with the then-largest controlled explosions in history. The marshes we eradicated more quietly, smothered by landfill or poisoned by pollution. While it's important to remember our history, neither Native American name captures the character of the East River today.

Early Dutch explorers bypassed indigenous names for our waterways, tagging them instead with convenient shorthand to frame their territorial claims: the North River, South River and East River. While the former two became known as the Hudson River and Delaware River, the East River remains stuck with a placeholder name.

East River, No. 3, 1926, Georgia O'Keeffe.
Photo from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College

Correcting a Misnomer

This even though the East River is not a river at all. This 16-mile long strait links the Upper Bay of the harbor with Long Island Sound. Unlike a river, it has no fresh water source. The flow between Manhattan, Long Island and the mainland simply rises and falls and sloshes back and forth each day with ocean tides. It's true that the Hudson River is also tidal up to Albany and not a true river within our city. The Hudson River's source, however, is the fresh waters of Lake Tear in the Clouds. The lower Hudson River is an estuary, an arm of the sea that includes the strait we call the East River.

Renaming the East River has had several near misses. Some navigators called the passage the Sound River, for its eastern connection. Hell Gate, that dynamited central bend of the waterway between Randalls Island and Astoria, was named through an Anglicization of the Dutch hellegat, meaning "bright passage." That name, a bit of a double entendre perhaps, could have referred to the strait's entire length.

When our forbearers renamed the North, or Mauritius, River for Henry Hudson's historic 1609 voyage aboard the Half Moon, they might have extended a similar honor to Adriaen Block for the East River. Block's ship, the Onrust, explored the East River just five years after Hudson. The ship, the first trans-Atlantic vessel built in the Americas, was also the first vessel with a European crew to sail through from Manhattan to the Long Island Sound. Indeed, with this year marking the 400th anniversary of Dutch exploration of our harbor, a "Block River" movement might surge.

The City's Waterway

Photo from WikiCommons
East River lore: Harry Houdini built up his strength by swimming the East River

Instead let's rename the East River for the outrageous metropolis it nurtures. For ourselves. After all, this is our premier waterway. Each bank of it is a borough, with Brooklyn and Queens on one side and the Bronx and Manhattan on the other. Our most stately bridges span it, and on its bed lay our darkest fears and fantasies of disappearance. Ghosts glide over its surface, from the thousands of patriots who died of starvation and disease aboard prison ships on Wallabout Bay during the Revolutionary War to the over 1,000 lost in the General Slocum ferry disaster of 1904.

The strait carries our lore, like the story of Ehrich Weiss, the sickly teenager who swam its turbulent waters to build up his strength and who became the Great Houdini. The infamous pirate Captain William Kidd lived a Manhattan gentleman's life in view of the bustling East River piers while smuggling through Cripplebush, or Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Moby Dick begins with a walk from "Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall northward." Georgia O'Keeffe painted the East River with the focus she brought more famously to the desert. By contrast, the Hudson River is shared by New Jersey and a horde of counties and towns up north. It is they who are celebrated in the Hudson River's stories and paintings, not us.

The East River, like New York City, is far less dirty and dangerous than it once was. But it remains a roiling place of restless energy - only recently its currents sheered off the blades of electric turbines meant to harness it. Like our city of late, it lures dreamers into even the most daunting conditions; divers still descend in hopes of finding gold from the HMS Hussar, claimed by Hell Gate in 1779. Today sailors, paddlers, anglers, and swimmers are once again discovering that its beauty provides a new way to love New York City.

This water pass is ours, and it is us. Call it the Gotham Strait.

Erik Baard is a writer whose family has worked New York Harbor for generations on tugs, barges and in marine construction, along with some rum running. He founded the LIC Community Boathouse to provide free kayaking on the East River, co-wrote a book of historic images of the waterway and is working to start a World Boatbuilding Museum. His blog is at

Homeland Security Funding


New York City's first responders continue to suffer severe shortages in funding and can expect to see their limited resources diminish even further under the Bush Administration’s proposed Budget for 2005. The safety of New Yorkers has already been compromised by, a 15 percent reduction of the police force since 2001, extremely low access to vital equipment and HAZMAT material and the closure of six firehouses, which has resulted in dramatically higher response times. Frankly, this is unacceptable.

Although the Department of Homeland Security has recently awarded over $103 million to New York State for the training and equipment of first responders, it does not come close to compensating the budget cuts already suffered, or those proposed for 2005. The budget for fiscal year 2005 cuts $2.3 billion for first responder programs. This includes both a $1 billion cut in the State Homeland Security Grant Program that assists first responders, and the removal of the Law Enforcement Block Grants, currently worth $225 million, that specifically assists police officers.

The budget cuts $800 million from state and local homeland security grants. It cuts state and local grant funding for first responder training, exercise, and technical assistance from $320 million in 2004 to $178 million in 2005. It also cuts Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement Act grants for equipment and personnel to local fire departments by $246 million.

The bottom line: Critical needs of first responders will be under-funded by $98.4 billion over the next five years.

These radical reductions will consolidate the mounting burden placed on state and local governments. It will also prove to be a disatrous setback in aquiring the equipment and training first responders need to fulfill their increasing duties in preserving our homeland security.

In one way or another, we were all affected by the tragedy of 9/11. We saw the brave response of our police, fire, emergency medical personnel and other first responders and we still harbor a great sense of admiration and respect for them. In the time that has since passed, we have come to more fully appreciate our dependance on their service to our communities. Yet we have failed to demonstrate our support for them; we have failed to ensure they are provided with the very tools they need to keep us secure.

We know what needs to be done.

The New York City Fire Department recently made a list of requirements for the adequate preparation for response to future terrorist attacks. It included:

  • A reliable communications infrastructure for first responders
  • A secure dispatch network for fire and EMS personnel
  • An expansion of Fire Department Operations Center as a fully functioning emergency center
  • A back-up emergency location
  • 12 months of emergency preparedness training for personnel.

It would cost about $277 million to acquire these and other equipment and infrastructure -- more than double the amount granted to New York State by the Department of Homeland Security.

As an effort to remedy the reduced funding and skewed allocation of funds for First Responders, I have introduced the Homeland Emergency Response Act of 2003 (HERO Act), which allocates $15 billion to protect New York City and other American cities. It creates a $3.5 billion first responder program in the first year and maintains a $3.75 billion program per year for three years thereafter. The bill protects high threat urban areas by mandating that 1/3 of all first responder funding be earmarked to the five cities with the greatest vulnerability or threat risk as determined by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction CIA, FBI and HHS.

The bill also creates a new Anti-Terrorism Account for firefighters, while changing the Federal Firefighter Grant Program that is currently in place. The HERO Act also ensures that the allocation of funds is more equitable and based on threat ratio, thereby directing valuable funds to cities with the most need.

Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress are holding up this important piece of legislation.

I have also proposed fundamental changes to the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement Act Grant Program, the nation's homeland security funding program targeted specifically for fire departments. Currently, grants are limited to a sum of $75,000 and are distributed according to population. The pre-9/11 cap imposes an unnecessary restriction on access to funds for New York’s first responders.

If, as I propose, the cap were lifted and the $750 million of funds available through the FIRE Act grant program were distributed based on population, New York City would receive $20.5 million, much more than the current cap of $75,000, or even the $2 million cap proposed in President Bush's budget.

Furthermore, it is important to distribute these funds according to threat. While distributed according to population, Montana, for example, receives $9.07 per person while New York City receives only .09 cents per person.

To stand by and allow important funding for First Responders to be so drastically cut is to increase the vulnerability of our great city and undermine the huge strides we have been taking in protecting New Yorkers.

Josephy Crowley, a Democrat, represents the seventh Congressional District in the Bronx and Queens.

Keeping Ferry Service Afloat

Each time the New York Mets take the field this summer the Grand Central Parkway, Northern Boulevard, and the Van Wyck will be clogged with cars. The 7 train will disgorge thousands of fans. And of course there are the planes. What would a day at Shea Stadium be without the roar of the Delta shuttle?

But what you won't be able to do very often is take a ferry to the game. That is because the private operator that runs the serviced announced that they would only be offering the water route to the park for games played on weekends and select Fridays.

The Shea ferry is not the only ferry eliminating service. The much-ballyhooed service from Long Island City has also been dry-docked, as has the weekend service to Riis Park in Rockaway.

The reason these ferries fail is that they are being asked to provide a service at a reasonable fare, without any subsidy. They are being asked to provide mass transit, but without the help that our bus and train services get.

During the early 20th century, New Yorkers were served by 125 different ferry routes. But with the construction of a more extensive network of bridges and tunnels, service began to dwindle, and between 1967 and 1989, waterborne passenger transportation ceased to exist in the city.

A century after the peak of ferry travel, New York's transportation infrastructure has reached a critical mass. We have reached capacity on our roads and rails. The 2000 Census showed that the average New Yorker spends an hour and twenty minutes commuting back and forth to work each day. A separate study, done by the Texas Transportation Institute, found that New Yorkers waste 696 million gallons of fuel a year standing still in traffic - second only to Los Angeles.

Our subways and busses are not much better off. Better service and the Metrocard have filled trains to the brink. Even the rightly maligned franchise busses are full most mornings.

So why so slow to dip our toes in the waters of ferry service? Much of it has to do with start-up costs. Ferries are expensive. They start in the $3 million range and run to over $10 million. Some of it is figuring out appropriate parking and landing facilities. (Although in many waterfront communities these sites are obvious, like Sheepshead Bay, College Point and Harlem for example).

But the biggest obstacle to progress is the mindset that the private sector will do this alone. They can't and they won't. New York Waterways is the biggest of the private ferry services. They have done well with the "short haul" of the New Jersey to New York routes. Lots of runs, a fleet of busses, they have it down. Along with a few other brave start-up ferry operators - New York Water Taxi, Seastreak, and Liberty Landing Water Taxi among them - they have begun to establish a network of service. While nothing comparable to the 125 routes of a century before, the 35 to 50 routes they run seasonally represent an important start.

The obstacle operators like New York Waterways find when looking to do the longer routes that will have the greatest benefit to the region's traffic and pollution problems is that the fares becomes uncompetitive with the subway, Long Island Rail Road or even the tolls on the tunnels.


That is where the city's existing policy toward ferries fails to make sense. Ferries are simply floating busses, and as such, they should be subsidized like busses with wheels. As long as the city sees fit to subsidize the operating costs of those providing service on the land, municipal leaders ought to have the vision to extend the same policy to those operating on the water.The city should begin an active purchasing and land review process to make ferry service part of the integrated transportation plan of the city. Metrocard readers on deck, full transferability for passengers stepping into the subway or onto a bus. And initial forays into service should not be done on the cheap. Ferries should be run frequently enough so as to allow commuters the flexibility they need to compete with alternative modes of transportation. Just as no one would expect commuters to embrace a new Second Avenue Subway if it were only to run twice a day, no one should expect ferry service to succeed if it is inconvenient.

I've started the process by purchasing three fast ferries in the new federal transportation bill.

Every six years, Congress votes on the Transportation Equity Act, a bill that pays for highways, roads, bridges, tunnels and mass transit projects across the nation. The House passed a $275 billion version of the transportation act and the Senate passed a $318 billion version. Now the two sides must work out the differences in conference before it goes to the president for approval.

As a member of the transportation committee and a representative of a district that includes waterfront neighborhoods like Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Rockaway, Breezy Point and Belle Harbour, I have requested ferries that will launch a Rockaway commuter service.

So soon, you may not be able to reach Shea by boat, but at least you'll be able to visit the beach.

Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, represents congressional district 9 in Queens and Brooklyn. He serves on transportation and infrastructure committee.

Related Articles:
Public Funds, Empty Ferries
Federal Money to Improve New York’s Port
New Future for New York’s Great Port
Tragedy and Neglect of the Staten Island Ferry
The Need for Ferries

A Time Of Crisis

It is an extraordinary time to be the Speaker of the City Council. Last year, we elected a new mayor, a new comptroller, and a new public advocate who have never served in public office. We elected four new borough presidents and 38 of the 51 City Council members are brand new. It may sound ridiculous, but I am the senior elected official in the city. I am the grizzled veteran.

The issue that I believe will define this era in city government is the budget. We are in the midst of the greatest fiscal crisis in the history of this city. It is much worse than anything we have dealt with before. I do not think the public has come to grips with that. And I do not think those of us in elected office have done as good a job as we should in preparing New Yorkers for this reality.

The governor and mayor made a decision that we needed to get a year under our belt before we dealt with our fiscal problems. I believe we need to honestly grapple with the fiscal crisis. That time, whether we like it or not, is coming very soon.

This year, the city faced a $5 billion budget gap. We borrowed $1.5 billion to ease the situation. We enacted some spending cuts, and we did some targeted tax increases like the cigarette tax and other fees. The mayor's way of dealing with the budget was to say that there should be across the board cuts and that there should be "no sacred cows." The council felt that there was a different and better approach -- to prioritize. I believe we were elected to office to help make those difficult decisions. For one, we believe that education and classroom funding should not be cut. And I am proud of the fact that we were able to do that in this year's budget.

Next year, we have another $5 billion budget gap; some say it could be worse. To put this number in perspective: if we were to cut 20,000 police officers, close every senior center, close every after-school program, and close every library, that would only save us $1.5 billion. That is how serious it is. We are not going to do those things and we can't do those things. If we did, we would stop being New York City.

In the last 10 years, we have gained more than 1 million new residents. New York City is still a place where people from around the world come to live, because they believe it is a good place. It is sometimes tough to be a New Yorker, but it's worth it because of the excitement, the creativity, and the uniqueness of our city. As we struggle to deal with our fiscal crisis, we have to preserve those essential elements of what it means to live in New York City. We can not cut education. We can not close down our cultural programs. If we do not preserve these things, than the city just becomes a tough place to live.

In order to do maintain services, we have to generate new revenues for the city.

This year, the council proposed a number of new revenue generating measures. We proposed an absentee landlord surcharge on property taxes. The city currently taxes multiple dwelling landlords at a much higher rate than it taxes single family homes that are used as investment properties. If we brought those two taxes to more equal level would raise as much as $130 million. We also proposed selling more taxi medallions and privatizing the Emergency Management Service collection and billing services. EMS currently bills for $165 million a year, and only collects about $40 million.

We also have to bring back to the commuter tax that would generate nearly $500 million a year for the city. Two weeks after I became speaker, I met with State Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver. He told me that he is prepared to reinstate the commuter tax if the mayor and City Council ask for it. So, we need to start with the mayor. It may take a while, but I think we are going to get the mayor to agree. We can't close a $5 billion budget by just cutting services and we can't raise $5 billion in taxes. We have to do some of both. Our problems are just too big.

Another major priority, of course, is rebuilding lower Manhattan and rest of the city.

The federal government has given the city $20 billion that can be used in a variety of ways. One of those ways is through incentives that can help keep and attract business to lower Manhattan. Lower Manhattan is the third largest business district in the country: midtown is first, Chicago is second, and downtown is third. Downtown drives the tax revenues of the city and if we don't have a strong, vibrant downtown business district, we will be in a worse situation than we now.

We must also make long-term improvements to the area that will attract people and business. Currently there are $1.6 billion in Liberty Bonds from the federal government, which are low interest rate bonds, to subsidize the creation of housing in lower Manhattan. The governor has $800 million in Liberty Bonds at his discretion and the mayor has $800 million. The governor's proposal calls for 95 percent to be used to build market-rate housing and 5 percent for affordable housing. The mayor has not yet said what he plans to do. I believe that we if are aggressive about it we can get as much as 55 percent of the Liberty Bond money for low to moderate income housing.

The council believes that we should allow for 25 percent of those bonds to be used outside of lower Manhattan, so that every part of the city can benefit from this federal money. Frankly, we are not going to get all $1.6 billion used in lower Manhattan. There just are not enough projects to get it done quickly, but there are projects around the city that can benefit from this kind of funding.

Gifford Miller is Speaker the New York City Council.
Adapted from a speech at the Women's City Club, September 27, 2002.

Fast, Not Fancy -- And In Midtown, Not Downtown

It is terribly important that whatever is to be done to rebuild Manhattan be done rapidly. The rebuilding must not be delayed--or stopped dead--by the usual New York acrimony about every aspect of every really large project. The city's economy has been hurt badly. The longer Manhattan is in a state of suspended animation waiting for the architects' perfect plan to be approved and actually implemented, the more unlikely complete economic recovery will be. More firms and jobs will be lost forever. The city and state fiscal difficulties will grow worse. And many of the economic opportunities that were suggested by the city's economic successes in the late 1990s will never come to pass.

If rebuilding is to be rapid, it cannot be an attempt to replicate exactly what existed in lower Manhattan at 8.00 AM on September 11. The rebuilding has to be consistent with what markets have shown over the past 50 years to be a powerful trend in the location of economic activity within Manhattan. We need to go with the flow, which is a shifting, rapidly at some times and more gradually at others, of economic activity from lower Manhattan to midtown. This reflects the fact that the only locational advantage that lower Manhattan has over midtown is that downtown is more convenient for subway commuters who live in Brooklyn. That was enormously important before 1930. It is a trivial edge now.

By 1960, the shift to midtown had become pronounced. A study for the Downtown Lower Manhattan project in 1961 documented how severe the shift in the 1950s had been, but-whistling in the dark-the study asserted that the trend could be stopped fairly easily (I as a consultant to the project was one of the whistlers).

There are winners and losers in such shifts, the biggest losers being the owners of land in the place that is the loser. A couple of men who shared the same family name-Rockefeller-were, respectively chairman of the Downtown Lower Manhattan and CEO of the Chase Bank, and governor of New York. They were persuaded that heroic efforts were needed to stop the trend. Lower Manhattan's office buildings were mostly obsolete and unattractive to high-end businesses not permanently tied to the securities markets, and one of its important transit links, the one that carried commuters from New Jersey and is now called PATH, seemed on its last legs, physically and financially.

So, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a creature of the governors of the two states, was instructed to intervene, to take over, rebuild and finance the permanent deficits of PATH (which benefited residents of New Jersey) and to provide millions of square feet of Class A office space by building the World Trade Center.

This intervention was timely, and it worked, in the prosperous 1980s and 1990s, when the two booms in the demand for the services of the financial services industries provide enough business activity to fill up the World Trade Center and other new office buildings, as well as a substantial amount of new office space in midtown Manhattan.

Rebuilding lower Manhattan to pre-9/11 standards will require the construction of millions of square feet of office space, mostly at the WTC site (there is no other open land in Lower Manhattan) or on a massive new land fill, and a huge investment in restoring the lower Manhattan infrastructure to its previous capacity. That cannot be done rapidly, even if we could avoid the controversy about just what to build that is already raging.

Much of the destroyed infrastructure would not need replacing, if we accept that the lower Manhattan economy will be a good deal smaller than it was before 9/11. With many fewer people working in lower Manhattan, New Jersey commuters could be accommodated by an expanded ferry system, and the PATH line need not be rebuilt at all (the signs suggest that there may not be any part of the under-river tunnel that is salvageable). The 1 and 9 subway line south of Chambers Street could be abandoned. The Con Edison steam system in lower Manhattan may not be salvageable, and abandoning it might justify closing down the entire steam system which is obsolete, to put it kindly. Similarly, the telecommunications capacity that would be needed if the economy were restored to ante-bellum conditions would be smaller, thus making it possible to avoid replacing the heavy Verizon losses.

On the other hand, the destroyed office space can be replaced quickly north of 14th Street, and the infrastructure is in place, or can be gradually expanded. The zoning is consistent with the construction of conventional office buildings, and 30-story buildings would not be a hard sell with respect to zoning. Developers know how to assemble land, design and build such buildings quickly. No doubt there would be scattered local opposition-after all, there are New Yorkers who believe that anything built before 1960, however hideous and dysfunctional, deserves landmark designation-and no doubt the product would be an ample plenty of plain vanilla buildings. But if the demand for midtown space is there, the 14 million plus square feet of space in the WTC could be met with dispatch. It would be building fast, not fancy.

Of course, there have been heavy economic losses and terrible human losses. The losers need to be made whole, to the extent possible, with one exception-landowners. But it would be grotesque public policy to restore lower Manhattan to its pre-9/11 condition in order to compensate landowners. Gamblers win sometimes, and lose other times.

Stick With Libeskind

As the first building scheduled to go up at Ground Zero, the Freedom Tower offers a glimpse into the future of the site as a whole, and whether it will work as an urban area. The tower is an impressive building, one that combines Daniel Libeskind's vision with David Childs' innovative use of structure. Childs' use of cables that enclose windmills over a thousand feet in the air, for example, will help create a building that can become a symbol of New York City. But Freedom Tower is not a complete success. It must be brought more closely in line with what Libeskind originally proposed.

Libeskind envisioned a tower that was thin and graceful, with a sloped roof and a spire that mirrored the arm of the Statue of Liberty. While Childs' earlier designs violated this vision by making a bulky, twisting tower much larger than Libeskind wanted, the recently released plan brings it more closely in line with Libeskind's concept, cutting the height of the building back down, for example, to 1,776 feet.

But Libeskind intended the spire to be something that soared like the arm of the Statue of Liberty, starting at the base of the building and running up all the way through it. It was an integral part of the building's form. To me, the spire that Childs has designed looks like a dunce cap, an appendage simply slapped onto the edge of the roof

It would not be too difficult to take the top third of the building, the 30-story skeletal form that includes the windmills, and shape it so that the spire really becomes part of the building architecturally.

Most importantly, for the World Trade Center site to be a successful urban design, all the buildings must work together to create a whole. That is why Rockefeller Center works so well. Its buildings are a family that relate to each other as part of a whole; there is a design consistency that creates the ensemble. You look at any building in the project and you say "That is Rockefeller Center."

If we want people to go to Ground Zero and say "That is the World Trade Center," we need to adhere to the design principles developed for the overall site. Such coherence is how great spaces are made. Without it, you risk chaos.

Yet Childs appears to be disregarding Libeskind's master concept for the site. I couldn't help but notice that in the model that accompanied the new design for Freedom Tower, the shorter buildings on the site have really been bulked up, apparently abandoning Libeskind's vision.

If true, this would be disappointing. Childs has done some impressive things with his design. But as admirable as some of these innovations are, unless they are molded into a bigger and grander concept -- Libeskind's concept -- they will fall flat.

Beverly Willis, an architect, is the co-chair of Rebuild Downtown Our Town. This article was adapted from an interview.

A Field of Schemes


In This Series:
• Netting the Nets by Marty Markowitz
• Cheerleaders for Real Estate? by Tom Angotti

Recently New York developer Bruce Ratner announced plans to build a 20,000 seat basketball stadium and 17 skyscrapers in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights. This project depends on Ratner placing the winning bid for the New Jersey Nets. However, it also depends on the condemnation of over 1,000 homes and businesses in Prospect Heights and a risky financing system that is full of false hope.

While bringing the Nets to Brooklyn may sound like an intriguing idea, it has troubling fiscal, social, and economic implications for New York City as a whole.


Typically, backers of a new stadium promise it will bring jobs, jobs and more, jobs.

Supporters of this stadium project have been hypnotized by similar claims. The reality is that Yankee stadium at 57,000 seats, which is double the size of the proposed stadium in Brooklyn, only offers 65 full-time positions. Any claim that this proposed stadium would provide for significant and permanent employment is a pipe dream.

Other supporters argue that local schools and other not-for-profit organizations will use the proposed stadium for their recreational events. I respond that there are a number of proposed capital projects to renovate armories and other buildings in Brooklyn into recreational facilities. These facilities, however, do not involve the condemnation of homes and or divert public dollars for private purposes.

The developer also claims that the 17 skyscrapers in his second phase will create 4,500 to 5,500 new apartments. That claim is the biggest joke of all.

Organizations involved with affordable housing do not build high-rise apartment buildings anymore. They realize that people want housing on a human scale where children can play in a yard and neighbors can look out for each other. Furthermore, the total cost for the purchase and construction of this project will in all likelihood make housing so costly, that most working families will not be in a position to afford to live there.


The developer also plans to use eminent domain - the power to take private property for public use - to evict entire families and businesses for his project.

Approximately 1,000 men, women and children would be displaced if the stadium plans go through (we know the number because we counted - door to door). In addition to families being removed, blocks may be closed to accommodate the stadium separating Fort Greene and Clinton Hill from the Prospect Heights community.

The junction of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues is currently congested with traffic, and adding a stadium and 17 skyscrapers would only serve to worsen traffic conditions in a dense residential community. The massive influx of automobile traffic would tie up a main artery and create the biggest parking lot in the heart of downtown Brooklyn.

Imagine 23,000 more cars - that's nearly 1,000 more an hour - and many more children with asthma.


The biggest gamble in all of this is the method of financing the stadium.

Recently, Ratner claimed that all he wanted in exchange for this project is for New York City to kick back some of the sales and income taxes to pay off loans that he had to borrow for the project. It was reported that the total bill for the stadium and surrounding commercial, office and residential development is being estimated at $2.5 billion (not including the $300 million that he would pay for the Nets).

This project will rely upon the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Tax Increment Financing is one of the fastest growing development subsidies in the country, and it diverts future property, sales and income taxes in a designated district until a developer can pay off the costs of the project. It is just another name for corporate welfare.

Bruce Ratner's past is prologue to his future. His Atlantic Center Mall, which is directly across the street from the proposed stadium, is shrouded in a cloud of controversy. It has not resulted in any appreciable benefits to the community and has a 23-year property tax abatement with a disastrous private commercial rental history.

Not only will this be bad for Brooklyn, but for all of New York.

An Independent Budget Office report on the public financing of professional stadiums concluded that dedicating taxes for huge construction projects like this ties up a significant portion of the city's revenues, and often competes with funding for other city needs like schools, police, housing, playgrounds, and sanitation.

I was elected to protect and preserve working families, to create more affordable housing and employment opportunities, and to devise economic plans that involve and respect the character of local communities. I support development of this site, but development that make sense. We need projects that will generate revenue for the area and leave the Prospect Heights community intact.

We do not need to look like an imitation of Manhattan. We stand uniquely and proudly as Brooklynites.

Letitia James represents the district 35 neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and North Crown Heights in the New York City Council.


In This Series:

• Netting the Nets by Marty Markowitz
• Cheerleaders for Real Estate? by Tom Angotti

Netting The Nets

brooklyn nets

In This Series:
• Field of Schemes by Letitia James
• Cheerleaders for Real Estate? by Tom Angotti

Since the announcement of the proposed Nets arena plan there has been tremendous enthusiasm generated throughout Brooklyn. I continue to believe more than ever that bringing world-class professional sports and a world-class arena to Brooklyn would tremendously benefit our borough, by boosting our profile around the nation and the world, by enhancing pride in Brooklyn, and by creating desperately needed economic development, jobs and affordable and middle-income housing for the Brooklynites who need them.

I am well aware of negative comments by some who live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed project. I know there are real concerns that must be addressed - and they will be. Netting the Nets must be a win-win for all of us who call Brooklyn home, and any project of this scale must have real community involvement to be successful.

The plan as presented so far is not perfect nor is it final.

That's why if the Nets are purchased and their move to Brooklyn is approved, I will be working with the community on a variety of issues, such as parking, traffic, and city services that must be addressed for this project to work.

But in my opinion the benefits of this project for all of Brooklyn greatly outweigh the arguments against it.


Unfortunately, some of these comments in opposition are misleading, and others are simply less than accurate.

For example, referring to "20,000 extra cars," as if each and every man, woman and child would drive their own car to the game! Come on now, the reason why an arena works at this location is precisely because cars are not needed to access it.

Common sense, good urban planning, and care for the environment would tell you that the arena must be located where visitors have the best access by mass transit, and this location is Brooklyn's best for public transportation, with nine subway lines, four bus lines and the Long Island Rail Road all meeting there.

The irony is that if land were available to put an arena in another area of Brooklyn, as some have suggested, it would definitely result in the use of cars almost exclusively!


Of course nothing would make me happier than if this project didn't take a single home or business, and I have urged flexibility in the plan to limit such action if possible. However, much of this project would be constructed almost completely over empty land - yes, empty space - over the Long Island Rail Road Tracks tracks, which is not exactly one of the garden spots in Brooklyn.

The project will also create a real wealth of jobs: from construction on the project, to working in the offices and retail stores, and the boost to local businesses who will sell to both tourists and new residents, all on top of the jobs working in the arena and the ancillary businesses (sound and light technicians maintenance, catering, cleaning, etc) at the arena itself and for specific events held there.

In fact, Andrew Zimbalist, one of America's leading opponents to urban stadiums and ballparks is a consultant on this project, and he supports it fully. We have learned from the past mistakes of new facilities - there is a right way and a wrong way to build.

And with a design by the world's leading architect, Frank Gehry, I am confident this will be an attraction and a landmark that will make us all proud.

The public's investment in the proposed arena would be rather modest for a project of this magnitude. The benefits and amenities it would provide - social and economic, short- and long-term - would be the most significant project accomplished in Brooklyn in decades, especially when you factor in the overwhelming demand in Brooklyn for affordable housing and jobs.


It comes down to this. I believe very strongly that all of Brooklyn would benefit from the return of national sports to our borough; an arena for world-class attractions and high school and college athletics; the construction of affordable and middle income housing, which is the number one need in every survey of Brooklyn residents; the development of office space for more employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for residents; and the tremendous number of jobs and economic activity that would result on Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Vanderbilt Avenue, Washington Avenue, and beyond.

I am confident that a national basketball franchise in Brooklyn will immediately become one of the country's best-loved teams.

As a result, this would draw new visitors to our borough and be a huge boost to Brooklyn's growing tourism industry. Brooklyn's need for an arena is perhaps just as important. Currently, we lack a large multi-purpose indoor space.

So in addition to a home for the Nets, an arena would allow Brooklyn to host college and high-school athletic events, graduations, trade shows, concerts, the kennel show, Ice Capades, conventions and numerous other events that we currently miss out on and that Brooklynites are forced to go to New Jersey, Long Island or even Manhattan to attend.

For all of these reasons and many more, I am an enthusiastic supporter.

At the same time, I understand the concerns, and on issues such as traffic and parking, they are real and need to be reviewed by experts with the participation of our community. Sadly, thus far the cry from some has not been "let's make this work," but rather, "let's stop this project totally."

Fortunately we live in a democracy that celebrates different opinions and encourages public debate. I look forward to such a debate and am confident that a successful win-win will result for the immediate neighborhood and for all of Brooklyn and New York City. I believe we can have both: an arena and a better neighborhood.

We can elevate Brooklyn to the national stage while enhancing the neighborhoods we love.

Marty Markowitz is the Brooklyn Borough President


In This Series:

• Field of Schemes by Letitia James
• Cheerleaders for Real Estate? by Tom Angotti