The frightful scourge of sidewalk cracks, the excuse that was used to clear a neighborhood for its takeover by Forest City Ratner is now very much in evidence around the brand-spanking-new Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” (Libor) Center arena. Oh my! Wasn’t everyone promised that if the neighborhood were eliminated, Ratner’s munificence, exemption from taxes, and superior ownership abilities would mean that we wouldn’t have to continue to live with sidewalk cracks?
Seriously, it’s not that sidewalk cracks are the worst thing in the world: After all, they can be found everywhere. . . There are all sorts of sidewalk cracks around Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. You can find some really bad ones around Borough President Marty Markowitz’s new home. Noticing New York found some cavernous sidewalk cracks around Senator Charles Schumer’s home on one of the best blocks on Prospect Park West. You could even find sidewalk cracks besetting other Forest City Ratner properties, including such properties in my own neighborhood of fashionable Brooklyn Heights. If sidewalk cracks were a real problem then I’d be in a thicket of of difficulty because sidewalk cracks are everywhere in my neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights.
No, it’s not that sidewalk cracks are truly so frightful. What’s terrible is that the bane of sidewalk cracks was used by the ESDC, now going by the shortened acronym of ESD (the Empire State Development Corporation, aka UDC or New York State Urban Development Corporation) was used as a pretextual excuse to find “blight” when it scornfully pointed out sidewalk cracks so that it could clear out and turn a whole neighborhood over to politically-connected Forest City Ratner.
The mega-monopoly that Forest City Ratner was shooting for, and which government handed over to Bruce Ratner, is more than 30+ contiguous acres in the area of this most recent taking and more than 50 acres in all that government has assisted Ratner to acquire over Brooklyn’s key subway lines. In terms of aggregate buildable square footage, FAR, (as opposed to just square feet) it constitutes an even more extreme government-supported monopoly given the density (and government subsidies) being preferentially assigned to the Ratner properties.
The way it worked was that, in order to constitutionally justify the taking of property to compile Ratner’s mega-monopoly, the ESDC board sent out the firm of AKRF and told it to find blight and AKRF, complying with its contract’s specifications and following instruction went out and found blight. It did so, in important part, by pointing out sidewalk cracks, notwithstanding that Senator Charles Schumer, who likely doesn’t think his sidewalk crack-ridden neighborhood is blighted and probably doesn’t think that Brooklyn Heights is blighted either, said that he knew that the neighborhood that AKRF found was blighted (very close to his own, and one he bicycles through) was similarly not blighted.
Notwithstanding the pretext of blight used to take the property for Ratner, and notwithstanding that Schumer declares that he recognizes and opposes the evils of monopolies, Schumer was a supporter of the Atlantic Yards/“Barclay” (LIBOR) Center project because it would provide affordable housing. He said he relied upon the Ratner-financed ACORN to reach that conclusion.
Well, it is now clear that Ratner is not honoring many promises, including those with respect to housing. Forest City Ratner might, with deepening preferential subsidies, start building one residential building next year and, if it does, that 32-story, 363-unit, perhaps modular, building is supposed to contain just nine 2-bedroom units of housing that's truly affordable to low income families. Maybe Schumer will be backing away from his support of the mega-project. Local politicians stayed away from the events celebrating the opening of the Ratner/Prokhorov arena. Schumer, likewise, was not reported to be in attendance although he was present for the festivities announcing Ratner’s mega-project in December of 2003.
As Schumer, with a knowledge about monopolies and their evils, should know there is a key interrelationship between monopolies and the lack of benefit: Noticing New York has emphasized this before. . . Giving Ratner a mega-monopoly:
. . .. doesn’t just wipe out Ratner’s competition, it's intended to knock out the public’s negotiating power.The “Barclays” (LIBOR) Center sidewalk cracks, visible in the evening gloom, were pointed out by Patti Hagan on one of our first walks around the newly opened arena. Patti was also the community resident who, activist-style, first sounded the alarm in 2003 that there was a neighborhood (and competing development!) that Ratner wanted to remove from the footprint of the mega-monopoloy he sought.
It’s ironic though: The mega-monoply was given to Ratner because we shouldn’t have sidewalk cracks? . . . But with Ratner we still have sidewalk cracks? Brand-spanking-new ones on the sidewalk of a building that doesn't pay taxes?
Let’s consider the “Barclays” arena sidewalk cracks just one more reason to take the mega-monpoly away from Ratner so as to restore the community’s ability to negotiate for real benefit.
Here are some more pictures (click to enlarge).