Mark Winston Griffith
Atlantic Yards Rally Reminds us What’s at Stake for You, Me and Brooklyn
The drama of Atlantic Yards, the gargantuan development masterminded by Bruce Ratner that promises to deliver a Nets basketball arena and a Manhattan-like skyline, took another interesting turn yesterday as Forest City Ratner paid for and staged a rally in downtown Brooklyn.
Although the Atlantic Yards project has been slipping in and out of the headlines over the past year, the rally served as a reminder that construction on a project that defies reasonable scale – if built as planned it will create the most densely populated swath of land in the country – still looms over Prospect Heights. But given the fact that Ratner's own financial constraints have put the project's future in question, one is compelled to ask, what or who was the event trying to rally? As one opponent of the project quipped, "Most interesting to me were the 'Build It Now Signs.' Who are they directed at? Forest City Ratner has many acres of land they can build on. But financially they are incapable, so they turn the blame on the opponents. That message is really for Ratner, though they don't know it."
One obvious motivation for the rally was to boost the project's sagging pubic image which took a hit when news surfaced that the slowing economy and Ratner's own financial position threatened the project. By some eyewitness accounts, the rally was apparently intended to leave the impression that outside forces, like some of the pending lawsuits against it, jeopardize the project, rather than Ratner's own precarious financial position. And there are other theories. The New York Sun suggested that the rally was orchestrated as a way for Forest City Ratner to argue for more public subsidies for the project.
The rally got at least one thing right: This project deserves further public scrutiny and debate. A lot is at stake for Brooklyn and New York City. At best, Bruce Ratner will come to his senses and dramatically scale down the project in a way that addresses community and environmental concerns, while delivering big time on desperately needed jobs and affordable housing in the area. This is my stubborn, foolish dream, but if it happens I will personally hoist Mr. Ratner on my shoulders and parade him down Atlantic Avenue.
At worst, Ratner will continue demolition in the footprint and piss away huge public subsidies, but fail to summon the financial will to actually build anything, thus leaving the land physically scarred, barren and useless for years, perhaps decades, to come. This of course will have the effect of preempting any other, perhaps more practical, development projects envisioned for the area. If this happens, not only would Ratner, as well as the public officials who have rooted on his urban cowboy venture, lose, but so would we all.