Time Out at Atlantic Yards
December 4th, 2008

Work has halted on the major part of the huge — and hugely controversial — Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn but those involved disagree as to why.

A spokesman for the developer, Forest City Ratner, told the Daily News that it had stopped work on the Vanderbilt Rail Yards, the planned site of a basketball arena and 16 towers, because of suits challenging the development. But the News went on to note the company previously pledged to “to continue construction despite a barrage of lawsuits that has slowed work on the project.”

Opponents of the problem think Ratner has run into financial problems.
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By on December 4, 2008, 11:31 am
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Graffiti as Devil on the Shoulder
November 26th, 2008

Keeping quality-of-life crimes in check is viewed by many as a means of sandbagging against the possibility of a crime wave resulting from the economic downturn.

Julia Vitullo-Martin told AMNY last week that the city needs to keep cracking down on such offenses. “Our sidewalks are mess, streets are a mess, theres dirt all over the place, quality-of-life offenses are clearly going up, theres graffiti all over the place, theres awful acid vandalism that one sees increasingly in the subway,” she cautioned.

But the theory that petty crime leads to more serious crime, referred to as the “Broken Windows” theory, had never been scientifically tested – until now.

A study published in the online journal Science found that people will indeed commit crimes if they see that others have gotten away with something.

In a series of experiments that played out over two years, Kees Keizer, a professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, created environments in public places to test the theory.

In one experiment, Kees and his colleagues painted graffiti in an alleyway used to park bicycles. He then attached fliers for a nonexistent sporting event to the bikes and observed how many people littered the fliers. He also observed how many people littered the fliers when the alleyway was clean.

The result? Nearly 70 percent of those observed littered when the walls had graffiti (which was painted sloppy so that it wouldn’t be mistaken as art). But when the walls were clean, only a third littered.

Pictures of the experiment are posted on the Not Rocket Science blog.

But zero-tolerance polices used to keep such quality-of-life crimes in check can be counterproductive, Keizer warns, because people view it as a declaration of war.
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By on November 26, 2008, 2:34 pm
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Reshaping Queens
November 13th, 2008

Dara L. MIles reports from today’s City Council meeting:

The New York City Council today approved zoning changes that pave the way for two ambitious redevelopment projects in Queens. City officials say the Willets Point redevelopment plan in northeast Queens and the Hunters Point South plan in Long Island City will provide thousands of affordable homes for middle-class and low-income families.

Of the two proposals, the Willetts Point plan has drawn the most criticism, much of it from some of the 200 small businesses, which will be forced to relocate. Most of the businesses — many of them auto-related — operate out of facilities leased from the landowners. The city has reached agreements with some owners to buy more than half the land involved, but may use its rights of eminent domain to acquire the rest.

While Council Speaker Christine Quinn hailed the vote as “a great day for the borough of Queens,” other members expressed concern over the use of eminent domain, but voted for the zoning changes anyway, saying that the benefits — housing, jobs and an environmental clean up — were too important to ignore. Still two members, Anthony Avella and Charles Barron sided with the businesses and voted “no,” and councilmember Letitia James abstained, because she is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city challenging a previous use of eminent domain.

By on November 13, 2008, 5:29 pm
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Willets Point Approved (UPDATE)
September 24th, 2008

This just in from the City Planning Commission: the redevelopment of Willets Point — land primarily comprised of dirt roads and auto body shops, adjacent to Shea Stadium — has been approved by the commission by a vote of 11 to 1, according to Rachaele Raynoff of city planning.

The proposal has already met serious community opposition and criticism in the City Council. (For more on the plan and the opposition, A Sustainability Test at Willets Point and Climate Change Could Threaten a Green Willets Point).

The application was approved with modifications, which we will be bringing to you in a bit.

Stay tuned.

Update: The modifications approved by the commission this morning focus primarily on incorporating green building standards within the mixed-use development. Incentives were given for car sharing programs (car sharing equals greater number of parking spaces in a development) and encouraging the incorporation of green roofs.

Other changes address a green median for the primary retail street to act as a stormwater management element, solar orientation of buildings and including a varied design for the developments taller buildings, according to city planning.
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By on September 24, 2008, 12:54 pm
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Crowded Classrooms?
September 3rd, 2008

With New York City’s 1.1 million public school students back in school — and some in pretty crowded schools at that — Brownstoner readers debate this week’s Gotham Gazette article on how luxury housing development is squeezing nearby public schools. Disagreement raged over whether the situation is a problem and who is to blame.

“Anyone with half a brain saw this coming,” said Cobblehook. And now, another reader said, the city needs need to fix it. “The fact that the local authorities cannot quickly utilize this money to upgrade the infrastructure is an indictment of the bureaucracy. Why should it take so long for the [Department of Education] to add on capacity?” the writer wondered.

But, hey, what crowding? One comment called the problem overblown and “a good problem to have.” Another went so far as to frame the crunch as a way to improve schools: “A school becomes excellent because people with resources … send their kids to that school and then get involved in it. …There are schools that need help that you can make a difference in. Then, not only do YOUR kids get a great education that you were instrumental in creating, but other kids whose families have fewer resources also benefit.”

So what about it Wonkster readers? What’s the situation at your child’s school? Is crowding a problem in New York’s classrooms? And if so, what should the city do about it?

By on September 3, 2008, 12:32 pm
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IKEA Comes to Town
June 18th, 2008

(Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn borough president’s office)

The yellow and blue have taken over Brooklyn.

That’s right, with a clap of a yellow baton, Red Hook IKEA thrust open its doors this morning to a hipster-laden crowd, anxiously awaiting to embrace the big box, Swedish chain store.

And while police directed traffic for the grand opening and gaggles of Brooklynites sought out affordable, “functional” furniture, discussions abounded across the city of what it means for small businesses.

So far, the five boroughs have resisted the Wal-Mart temptation, having fought off numerous attempts, but supporters of IKEA — of which there are many since the stores worldwide saw 583 million customers last year — claim this is different.

On WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show this morning, shoppers responded from Brooklyn to Brazil — and, according to the show’s comment page, it appears most people are pretty perturbed to have IKEA in town.
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By on June 18, 2008, 4:03 pm
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Jets President to Oversee West Side Development
June 17th, 2008

A few years ago, Jay Cross, the president of the New York Jets, spent much of his time trying to convince New Yorkers that it would be a good idea to build a new football stadium on the West Side of Manhattan. In 2005, the state legislature blocked the project, and Cross shifted his efforts to building a new stadium in the Meadowlands instead.

Now Cross is back on the West Side. According to a press release posted on the New York Observer blog, Cross has been named president of the Related Hudson Yards and “will lead Relateds development efforts of the 26-acre Hudson Yards site in collaboration with New York State, New York City, the MTA, elected officials and the community.”

By on June 17, 2008, 3:32 pm
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Ikea Mania Roundup
June 17th, 2008

TheSwedish big-box store Ikea opens its newestlocationin Red Hook, Brooklyn on Wednesday – and all of the hoopla in the city and in the press has Business Week asking: Is it an IKEA opening or a rock concert?

The New York Times looks at how the 34,600 square foot store will alter the neighborhood.

The Daily News offers a Q and A with the store manager.

Newsday interviewsNew Yorkerswho have camped out for days hoping to get a free sofa.

The New York Sun’s architecture critic blasts the store for being nothing more than a “decorated shed.”

The Brooklyn Paper reports thatIkea has hired 17 New York City police officers to handle traffic on opening day.

The message board on the Brownstoner blog offers a host of eulogies for the pre-Ikea Red Hook.

And New York Magazine provides a simple comparison of New Jersey and Brooklynlocations (including access by public transportation and delivery fees).

By on June 17, 2008, 7:59 am
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Talk About Sustainability (updated)
May 29th, 2008

Join Gotham Gazette and Hunter College’s Center for Community Planning & Development to discuss the city’s PlaNYC for a green and growing New York. To continue the conversation on we began with the launch of Sustainability Watch in April, Tom Angotti, professor in the Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs & Planning and Gotham Gazette’s land use columnist, will be available to answer your questions and offer his views about what the plan does and does not do, its strength and its weakness.

What do you want to know? What do you think? If you have questions now, just add them to the comments here. You can ask now or tune in on June 3, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. to ask your questions live — and to read the conversation as it takes place. Visit our chat page on June 3 to participate.

By on May 29, 2008, 10:17 am
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Who Has the Power to Develop the West Side?
May 20th, 2008

Last week, the New York Observer unveiled its list of “the 100 most powerful people in New York real estate” – and gave the top spot to Jerry Speyer of the firm Tishman Speyer. Tishman Speyer owns the MetLife building, the Chrysler building, Rockefeller Center, and as the Observer wrote “nearly won the right to develop the West Side rail yards” until the deal with the MTA fell apart.

Today, there is news that the MTA has made an agreement with the Observer’s #3 man on the list Stephen Ross of Related Companies, which keeps the West Side rail yards project alive for now. (Number 2 on the list is Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is still hoping the West Side development can be part of his legacy.)

Despite an agreement with a new developer, critics say there are still many obstacles for the projectincluding environmental and land use reviews, competition with other big projects like the World Trade Center site, andan uncertain economy which could take a toll on the amount of money private companies and the governmentwant to pour into theproject. State Assemblymember Richard Brodsky, who chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions and is #89 on the Observer’s list,told the New York Times, “Until we get a handle on the level of subsidies involved, theres no way to determine whether this is a good deal or a bad deal.”

By on May 20, 2008, 3:42 pm
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Park Slope Paper
May 19th, 2008

Why does everyone hate Park Slope, Lynn Harris asks in yesterday’s Times. Too many over the top parents? Jealousy on the part of those of us who can’t afford to live there? Gentrification run amok?

Here’s a possibility Harris does not mention. Maybe we’re all just sick of reading about the brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood in the Times. A search for articles with “Park Slope” over the past 30 days brought 43 matches, far outpacing other well-known New York City neighborhoods. Bedford-Stuyvesant showed up in 17 articles, Washington Heights in 16 and Jackson Heights in 11. Included in the Park Slope total: two lengthy, prominently featured articles on the suspension of alternate side parking in the area’s streets for several weeks. As another paper would say, inquiring minds need to know.

By on May 19, 2008, 12:42 pm
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Hudson Yards Plan Derailed
May 13th, 2008

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to salvage the latest version of the Hudson Yards development planfor the West Side of Manhattan have failed. TheMetropolitan Transportation Authority officials and developer Tishman Speyer have been unable to work out their differences, and today, the MTA released a brief statement:
“The MTA met today with Tishman Speyer. Despite the best efforts of both sides, a final agreement could not be reached. The MTA has now re-entered discussions with other interested developers and remains committed to timely development of these unique and valuable parcels of land on Manhattan’s Far West Side.”

By on May 13, 2008, 3:49 pm
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More on Atlantic Yards Redesign
May 6th, 2008

Over the weekend, developer Bruce Ratner unveiled a redesigned and scaled-down version of the Atlantic Yards project for downtown Brooklyn, complete with new models and drawings and an op-ed in the Daily News.

Now opponents have unveiled a new Web site called Atlanticlots.com, created by the Municipal Art Society and Brooklyn Speaks. It features a slide show with aerialviews the proposed development and a click-able link to “Ask Governor Paterson to make an interim plan for the site that works for Brooklyn.”

The real estate blog Curbed provides a look at the “mini-taboloid war” between the Daily News and the Post in their coverage of the Atlantic Yards redesign. (The blog Atlanticyardsreport says the New York Times has ignored the story.)Curbed also offers a poll so readers can weigh in the old and new version of the tower.

By on May 6, 2008, 8:27 am
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Brooklyn Blight
May 5th, 2008

Every day seems to bring more stories about troubles at Atlantic Yards, Bruce Ratner’s megaproject in downtown Brooklyn. The latest, from today’s Daily News, reports that the signature “Miss Brooklyn” residential and commercial building will be scaled back, renamed and only contain commercial space. Ratner has conceded the troubled economy could delay the residential and commercial project for years, casting doubts on whether the affordable housing and other community assets will fall by the wayside. And even the basketball arena for the Nets could be in jeopardy with accounts surfacing in the Jersey Ledger last week that Newark Mayor Corey Booker is working to have the team move to Newark, instead of Atlantic and Flatbush.

The possible demise of Atlantic Yards though could be a pyrrhic victory for opponents of the project, since New York’s leader have already allowed Ratner to level much of the surrounding area. If Ratner does not build on much of it, a neighborhood that probably would have developed just fine on its own could instead be a bleak and blighted landscape of vacant lots.

As evidence, the Municipal Art Society has released a series of artists’ renderings showing just how much of this key location, close to Manhattan and atop transit and commuter train routes, could lie empty for years thanks to Ratner and his allies in the state government, Bloomberg administration and Brooklyn borough hall.

“We are concerned that the approach with Atlantic Yards is to build when the market is ready, blighting the area with parking and harming Brooklyn in the meantime,” said Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society said in a prepared statement, adding Brooklyn could “be burdened” with the parking lots for 15 to 20 years.

“The independent renderings portray a vision of urban blight: Only the planned arena near Atlantic and Flatbush avenues and a lone adjacent residential/office tower remain, surrounded by a series of large ‘temporary’ surface parking and other empty space,” said the New York Post.

Ironically, Ratner was allowed to level the area of small-scale apartments and business to remove so-called “blight.”

By on May 5, 2008, 5:49 pm
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Quinn Kicks Public Out (Update)
April 30th, 2008

In the first significant disturbance since the Viola Plummer incident, Council Speaker Christine Quinn ordered the balcony of the council chamber be cleared this afternoon after a large group of Harlem rezoning opponents and supporters created a so-called disturbance.

The council approved the rezoning by a vote of 47 to 2, with members Charles Barron and Tony Avella dissenting.

Quinn’s move was criticized on the floor by several representatives, including Councilmember Helen Foster, who said if they are going to close the meeting to the general public (which is what they essentially did since the only people allowed on the council floor are staff members and press) they should do it for any disturbance — whether it is cheers of approval or heckling of dissent.
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By on April 30, 2008, 5:14 pm
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Park Battles
April 30th, 2008

In a city where everything is contentious, add another item to the list: parks. The Observer reports on the trend for community groups to fight parks in their midst, often with lawsuits and often with some success.

The groups do not oppose green space and trees but say they object to the “public-private partnerships undertaken by the Bloomberg administration to develop or to change the parks.” This issue has arisen at Union Square, where a lawsuit has at least temporarily blocked plans for a private restaurant, and on Randall’s Island where another suit has halted the city’s plan to give private schools priority in using playing fields.

The opponents also voice a complaint that has come to characterize the Bloomberg administration: They don’t consult with people in the community. “This is the worst situation Ive ever encountered in terms of [dealings with] the community Carol Greitzer, a former councilwoman from the West Village who helped start 250+ Friends of New York Parks, told the Observer. “They come up with a plan. Maybemaybeif youre lucky, you can tweak it slightly, but thats about all you can do.

For more on the administration’s approach to planning, see Is the Long-Term Sustainability Plan Sustainable? by Tom Angotti.

By on April 30, 2008, 9:06 am
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Working From Home? Get Out Once and a While...
April 23rd, 2008

A common reply to the announcement that you work from home is: “Wow, that’s the life. Rolling out of bed and working.” But a number people that do work from home around the world seem to find something missing with the lack of an office. A common sentiment is the need for community offered by coworkers. There’s the absence of having somebody to chat with at the water cooler about new work ideas or somebody to grab lunch with. And a productive work space is another concern. Having a television five feet away from your desk can be a distraction for some.

In response, home-workers from the Czech Republic to Chicago have increasingly been forming a new type of work collective called “coworking.” And New York City – where about 1-in-25 workers stay at home – has a plethora of its own coworking events and locations. They range from meetings in people’s homes and in cafes, businesses that open up their offices for coworking events, and dedicated coworking office spaces where one can rent a space for a given period of time.
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By on April 23, 2008, 8:05 am
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Willets Point Off to Sour Start (Update)
April 21st, 2008

Just as the Bloomberg administration announced it would pursue a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to develop an “environmentally-contaminated” area in Queens, a majority of the City Council went on the record opposing it.

The Willets Point development, which would create a mixed use community, complete with convention center, hotel, office space, retail and affordable housing on 62-acres in northern Queens, would go before community boards, the Queens borough president’s office, the City Planning Commission and eventually the City Council. The proposal has been spearheaded by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which has extensive plans on its website here.

The fact that 29 City Council members are already rallying against the proposal, including the area’s representative Hiram Monserrate, does not bode well for the administration (Granted, the ULURP procedure is just getting kicked off and it is expected that community input and revisions are a given for the process).

A spokesman for Monserrate, who has been vocal opponent of the plan prior to the letter’s release today, said the list of opposition is still growing.

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By on April 21, 2008, 4:44 pm
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Interactive Map of Community Plans
April 17th, 2008

The Municipal Arts Society, in collaboration with the Community-Based Planning Task Force, released its interactive Atlas of Community Based Plans this week. The atlas allows users to click through a variety of community plans dating back to 1989 – from rezoning plans, to transportation plans, to open space plans – all displayed on an interactive map. Billed as “the only publicly-accessible compilation of community-based plans in New York City,” the atlas, in its latest evolution, offers links to documents on all of the plans plotted on the map.

By on April 17, 2008, 5:00 pm
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Harlem Plan Moves Forward
April 15th, 2008

Two weeks after Harlem Councilmember Inez Dickens said she did not support the City Planning Commission’s approval to rezone 125th Street — long known as the capital of black culture in the city, if not the nation — she urged her council colleagues to approve a modified version.

The council’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee approved the rezoning plan with several revisions by a vote of 9 to 1, with Councilmember Tony Avella voting no.

The plan has carved out an unprecedented amount of income-targeted affordable housing at 46 percent of residential units, said Dickens, or 1,785 of the 3,800 proposed units. The plan’s modifications would also reduce the height restriction to about 190 feet, or about 16 stories, on the north side of 125th Street and 160 feet, or about 13 stories, on the south side. The plan would have originally allowed buildings as tall as 29 stories.

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By on April 15, 2008, 1:05 pm
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