Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bloomberg Masterful In Superstorm Sandy Disaster, Except When He’s NOT: “Barclays” Center Promos and Global Warming

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has joined the list of New York politicians who will be remembered for their masterful no-nonsense handling of overwhelming disasters: Giuliani and Pataki preceded him with their handling of 9/11 and now Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo faced by the unprecedented inundation of New York City by superstorm Hurricane Sandy will follow. . . .

. . . Bloomberg confronted the public, reading out status reports with cool, just-the-facts-you-need in-a-disaster efficiency that will earn him positive recognition, except when he just couldn’t help himself, and strayed off course.  In the course of two back-to-back news conferences on the extraordinary disaster accompanying hurricane he twice embarrassed himself, each time taking time out from the business of the hurricane relief efforts and reports on deaths to swing into promotion for the so-called “Barclays” basketball arena (which he has started calling a “stadium”- does he think a full scale stadium could have been squeezed into the neighborhood?).

The first time, Tuesday evening, Bloomberg told the public he was looking forward to attending a Nets game at the arena the very next night (taking an early break from overseeing response to the disaster).   The second time, a scant few hours later on Wednesday afternoon, Bloomberg reversed himself, saying that the basketball game he hoped would be held Wednesday night would be postponed at his recommendation.
Bloomberg recounting that a certain news service (his own) says the the Nets game he plans to attend will be held as scheduled despite the hurricane disaster.
Here is the exchange from Tuesday evening.  It begins with a question from a female reporter amongst the press corp sent to cover the human and mega-financial disaster the city faces that was symptomatic of where the New York press’s head is at in terms of escalating the show business promotion of “Barclays” as a story that consistently trumps real news (like the political corruption that built the arena):
Female Reporter: Here in Brooklyn, [obviously- or inaudible?] there’s a big event, the Knicks vs. the Nets opening game.  I know that transportation is limited. Is that game going to be rescheduled or . . .  (inaudible as she is cut off)

Bloomberg:  I don't know.  I did see the story on a well-known news service that said (giggle*) that the NBA was going ahead with the three games, I guess tomorrow night, and they had not decided yet about Thursday night's game.  Uhm, I hope they do it. I plan to go.  It's going to be tough to get there because, remember, one of the great things about the Barclay's Center is the great mass transit that runs under it; unfortunately for the moment, not a lot is running under it.  What they are going to do, I don't know, but if it's scheduled I will go.  I think it's going to be a great arena and it's a great thing for Brooklyn, and so. . . [moves on to the next and last question]
(* What the giggle was about was Bloomberg’s amusement that the “well-known news service” to which he referred was his own company Bloomberg, L.P. and I guess he reads what his own service reports about Nets sports events even during city disasters.  Watching the video- the exchange is at 20:45 you can decide whether the sound of amusement Bloomberg makes when he obliquely refers to his conflict of interest is best described as a giggle, a small guffaw or just something of a “tssk.”)

Notably, Bloomberg’s tongue doesn’t trip at all over the “Barclays” name for the arena despite the scandal associated with the bank after which we have now named portions of the city.
Bloomberg announcing Nets game is being cancelled on his recommendation
Today at 3:14 P.M. Bloomberg completely reversed himself.  (That is, if saying you hope a game won’t be cancelled and that you will take time off from dealing with the disaster to go to it and then recommending that the game instead be cancelled amounts to a complete reversal?)  Here is what Bloomberg said after speaking about how this Halloween parents should be careful to ensure responsible trick or treating and reminding everyone that the Halloween parade had been postponed (because police officers have to do other more important things right now).  Bloomberg had already announced on Tuesday evening that the Halloween parade would be postponed.
At my recommendation the NBA has canceled tomorrow night's game between the Knicks and the Nets.  It was going to be the first Nets game in the new stadium.  Now the first Nets game will be Saturday at 7:30 at the Barclays Center.  The Nets play the Toronto Raptors and this game will be rescheduled. The NBA will be working with the city to provide extra bus services for Saturday night because the subways may not be back after that.  There is plenty of mass transit that's one of the beauties of the Barclays Center.  Unfortunately, it just . . we didn't count on Sandy.  Hopefully, Sandy doesn't come along very often.  I am sorry about the game.  I was personally going to take my daughters and Diana.  We were looking forward to it. It's a great stadium.  It would've been a great game, but the bottom line is there is not a lot of mass transit. Our police have plenty of other things to do.  I know lots of fans are going to be disappointed.  And the players are disappointed.  You should know the players wanted to play this, but . . ah. .   I did talk to the NBA and recommended that . . ah . . . Asked them to . .  uh . .  cancel the game.  It's all up to me.
Bloomberg then went on to say that the city's annual marathon being held on Sunday (when most of the power will would be back on) was not being canceled.

Atlantic Yards Report has covered this already and also created an edited videos mashup of Bloomberg’s two mid-hurricane disaster press promotional statements about the Nets games below:  Wednesday, October 31, 2012, Bloomberg, with no chagrin about reconfirmation yesterday of Brooklyn Nets debut, announces inaugural game against Knicks postponed "at my recommendation"; NBA expresses sympathy with "all those affected"; CEO Yormark does a 180-degree turn.

How could Bloomberg embarrass himself more?  By acknowledging that the hurricane superstorm reflects a changing climate (it almost certainly does) but hedging about whether climate change is caused by human beings (something that's absolutely certain).  At the same press conference Tuesday, Bloomberg said:
Is a storm like this that’s so strong and so unusual a “global warning” incident?  I think what is clear is that the climate’s changing.  Nobody knows whether it is a cicular or a secular thing.  (Sic.)
When Bloomberg said “cicular” he probably meant “cyclical.”   When he said “secular” I thought he probably meant having do to do with day-to-day human activity rather than the divine (not what it actually means- sort of like “secular humanism”) instead of its more obscure meaning of  “occurring or persisting over an indefinitely long period.”  Now, I’m not so sure but in any case it seems clear he meant to say that while he believes climate change is clearly upon us he was irresponsibly dodging endorsement of the scientific consensus that the change in climate is caused by humans.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On New York’s Being Prepared (Really Prepared) In Advance (Really In Advance) For Storm Surges. . . And Wondering About NYC Tunnels. .

Above, a photo of the East Village, Avenue C and 8th Street, that's all over the internet.  The closest I can figure its provenance is here.  You don't need to imagine the condition of the subways beneath the streets because there are plenty of photos showing up.
(The following post is one I was about to put up during the storm last night when my internet went down.- Obviously I now have my internet back.)

Given the onslaught from Hurricane Sandy it seemed appropriate to remind readers of a prior Noticing New York article that was partly about the need for New York City to be prepared (really prepared) with better infrastructure for storm surges: Wednesday, September 29, 2010, Brooklyn Tornadoes and a Cool-Headed Appraisal of Weather Weirding in New York.

As I listened to talk of the storm’s approaching surge I started thinking about something I really don’t know much about, which is the buoyancy of New York City’s subway and other metropolitan region tunnels and their general vulnerability when waters surge over them and the sediment burying them.  Buoyancy can be a concern when constructing tunnels.  Sometimes they are weighted down with gravel so they sink.  Making tunnels deep enough is a concern when the harbor are dredged.  The harbor and the tunnels are just deep enough for some big ships to pass.  Sometimes there is concern about the effect of tides on the surfaces of underground tunnels.

So I know there is a concern about what will happen if the subways get swamped with saltwater as a result of this or any future storm surge.  What I don’t really know, and will for the time being just wonder about, is whether the tunnels under the waters of the harbor are vulnerable to any kind of damage from storm surges when vast rushing quantities of water pass over at accelerated and exceptional speeds, disturbing the sediment that covers them.  (As for buoyancy, a flooded tunnel isn't buoyant.)

Locked inside during a long storm, one’s mind is inclined to wonder.  Perhaps a reader who knows more about the vulnerability of  buried tunnels than I do will venture some information.  Troubling the MTA with my curiosity is the last thing I want to do as they have been preoccupied with plenty of other things since I began my wondering in this regard.

Notwithstanding what I don't know about the tunnels' vulnerability to surge, my earlier post set forth at the beginning of this post links to some authoritative reports with advice about how New York should be preparing for a future that experts believe will involve more storm surges than before and surges that are more severe.

PS:  I did not hit the `publish' button to have the above go up on the internet last night before my internet went down.  Signing on the internet today I see that people are passing around a prescient 2005 article by Aaron Naparstek about how New York should foresee a big storm:  "The Big One," July 27, 2005.  The other thing I am hearing now that the storm surge has receded is that last night the waters of the Hudson and New York Harbor reached their highest recorded levels in 200 years.  Were harbor waters ever higher than that?  Maybe and maybe not: We don't know because no records were kept before that.

Only a year ago, with Irene, we had a large storm that was in many respects substantially similar to this one.  Though its damage wound up being delivered differently, with some minor alterations the Irene damage delivered could have been very much the same . . . .

. . . Could this become the pattern of a new normal?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hooray! MTA Breaching Contract With Ratner Removes “Barclays” From Subway Station Names

MTA's ad for new map app that is sans "Barclays"
     'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

        From Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy.  (Hamlet Act III, Scene 1.)

Sometimes when you allow yourself to hope for things you might actually see what you are hoping for come true!

The MTA needs to unwind the deal it made that has plastered the name of notorious scandal associated “Barclays” Bank on two subway hub stations in its system and associated maps and signs.  Among other things, this advertising for the bank puts the MTA in the very awkward position of appearing to endorse the bank’s infamously antisocial activities.  (See Noticing New York’s testimony before the MTA: Thursday, September 27, 2012, Noticing New York Public Comment At Today's MTA Board Meeting On the Subject Of MTA's Devoting Public Assets To Advertising.  See also: Wednesday, September 26, 2012, Promoting Obfuscation of What Government Does and Doesn’t Do To Give The Private Sector (Including Ratner) More Credit.)

 In general, the MTA should cut way back on its dismaying efforts to max out advertising in the system.  The naming of subway stations after corporations, most conspicuously represented at present by the poorly handled naming of subway hub stations after “Barclay” Bank for which the MTA got a mere far-below-market pittance, is just the best current example of what is wrong.  Advertising revenues supporting the MTA system are absolutely minimal: More than 99% of the system is paid for by sources of funds other than advertising.  See:  Monday, September 17, 2012, NY Times Runs 3rd Article Mentioning That, Given Scandal, Promotionally Naming Subway Stations & Arena “Barclays” Is Problematic.

Well, yesterday I noticed that the MTA, despite its contractual obligation to Ratner to put the “Barclays” name on the subway stations, (including when the stations appear on system maps) has removed “Barclays” from the station names!  It came up in the context of advertising in which the MTA was advertising itself with ads within its own system.  The MTA has a new mobile device map app. (I guess mobile device map apps are in our future to replace paper system maps.)
Close up on missing "Barclays"
In an ad for the map app the MTA ("The Weekender . . to go") chose to prominently display two important subway stations in the system.  Probably because they are so important they chose to display the stations renamed “Barclays” but (because the renaming is controversial or awkward?) they showed those stations dropping the “Barclays” name!  Hooray!  Let’s hope Barclays gets eliminated everywhere form the public system in the future: It’s such a drag to be riding a train and then hear an announcement. . “Next stop. .. .” and then hear that despicable “Barclays” name.

This picture is poor quality but you can see the campaign's motto "Improving, non-stop" at the bottom
Notably, a New York Times article covering the introduction of The Weekender web site (distinct from “The Weekender” map app, covering service changes and expected delays)  chose, albeit it was a year ago, to use a visual that showed the same deletion of the “Barclays” name: See below.
(From: Ahead of Its Time / An Icon Goes Digital, by Stephen Heller, September 16, 2011)
Will Ratner sue the MTA for a breach of contract?  If so it will be interesting to see what they sue for: A small proportion of the infinitesimal $200,000 per year amount they paid for the subway station rights. . . or for the actual “benefit of their bargain” which at the time the MTA handed them the naming rights deal was valued at one hundred times that amount?

Addendum: “Barclays” Center and the CitiField Baseball Stadium Scrubbed From AIANY Subway Corridor Panoply

One more thing in the vein of things one might hope for in the MTA subterranean environment, also in the context of advertising that appears on system walls: A year ago I wrote about how the AIANY (“American Institute of Architects New York”) had plastered the images in the A Train subway entrance corridor under the IFC Center with images that included promotional visuals of the “Barclays” Center and the CitiField baseball stadium.  I referred to it as a “Hall of Shame” of subsidy grabbers and provided what I viewed as my own corrective images.  See: Sunday, November 6, 2011, Rogues Gallery: The AIANY (“American Institute of Architects New York”) Subway Corridor Posters Under the IFC Center Showing “Urbanized”.
AIANY's "Barclays" image October 2011
Another AIANY "Barclays" image from October 2011
One of Noticing New York's corrective images.  More in NNY's 2011 article.
So here is more good news: This year a new set of updated AIANY architectural images are back in that corridor and, AIANY perhaps thinking better of it this time, has eliminated from the panoply any such obviously controversial subsidy-grabbing projects harmful to the public.  See 2012 images below.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More Alternatives As You Shun The LIBOR Scandal Center: Shepley Metcalf Singing Laura Nyro At Metropolitan Room & Reminder on Red Molly

Planning on shunning the Barclays (LIBOR scandal) Ratner/Prokhorov arena?  Here are some alternatives if you are interested in good music.

This Saturday Evening: Hot Ticket of Red Molly and Union Preservation Society

Let me put this reminder first since I couldn’t fit all the bounty in this post’s title: Red Molly and the Union Preservation Society are performing at First Acoustics this Saturday, October 27, 2012, at 8:00 PM.  I suggest both getting tickets in advance and arriving early as this is an especially hot ticket.  (First Unitarian Congregation at the corner of Pierrepont and Monroe Streets in Brooklyn Heights)
Red Molly at First Acoustics Concert March 19, 2011
I I rank the perfect blending harmonies of Red Molly extraordinarily high as an experience, having seen them at a previous First Acoustics evening.

I wrote about them and songs they perform like May I Suggest” (by Susan Warner) together with more about the offerings this First Acoustics season here: Wednesday, September 19, 2012, Alternatives To The Scandalously Spawned, Scandalously Named Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” Center: Protest & Locally Nurtured Concerts.

Red Molly's Abbie Gardner Above with Pat Pictor: They sing a duet Wictor wrote,  “A Little Love Is Gonna Do
I also have my eye on Red Molly’s Abbie Gardner.  In the above post I wrote about her “My Craziest Dream” album of American Songbook music, with her father providing some backup and performing his own “Staten Island” composition.  I see that Gardner, in her own right, has another Unitarian-hosted “swing dance” coffee house appearance (“Common Ground” Community Concerts- Get it?) with the “The Craziest Dream Band” up in Dobbs Ferry, New York coming up on November 3rd.  (South Presbyterian Church, 343 Broadway, Dobbs Ferry NY)  I wonder what pleasures are in store and if her father will be there backing her up?

The multi-membered Union Preservation Society opening Saturday night for Red Molly sound like they can provide some really raucous fun but they also have a sweet, simple Shaker song demonstrating their wares on their website.
First Acoustics Concert: Buskin & Batteau and Freebo

Freebo at First Acoustics earlier this month with Buskin and Batteau joining him on stage
The previous First Acoustics concert, the beginning of the month was  Buskin & Batteau and Freebo.  Freebo is fantastic at relating to the audience and I liked the fact that he also ventured to talk politics- politics I took a shine to.  Still when I talked with him during the intermission he said he was quite conscious about how the core to his work is a message of inclusion.

Marshall in background backing up Buskin & Batteau
Buskin & Batteau go way back with a solid reputation so I don’t need to burnish it more. . .

. . .  I found myself fascinated watching percussionist Marshall Rosenberg backing them up, mostly playing the drums with his hands, occasionally brushes.  What was most fascinating is not what Marshall played- it was what he didn’t play.  He had all sorts of minimal effects and was prone to use them minimally.  I talked with him afterward and he said he was incredibly mindful of the importance of the “spaces” in the music.  Watching him involved almost Hitchcockian suspense: You could see Marshall’s eyebrow rise. . . you could feel something was coming. . . whenever it came it would be perfect . . . what would the perfectly-picked punctuation be?. . . in his intent look you knew he knew exactly . .  and then Gloriosky!  Something so minimal and just right!  

Shepley Metcalf Performing Laura Nyro Songs at Metropolitan Room

Cousin Shepley Metcalf will be back again at the Metropolitan Room, this time performing the songs of Laura Nyro.   She’ll be there Thursday, Nov. 1st at 7 pm and Saturday, Nov.10th at 9:30 pm.   When Shepley was last at the Metropolitan Room she was interpreting the songs of Fran Landesman (which you can read about here)

Nyro is an influential  '60s songwriter performer, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who died in 1997.  Shepley’s usual  repertoire is American Songbook so this is considered something of a departure for her though Nyro “fuses elements of soul, folk, jazz and Broadway tradition” to create the Nyro sound that has a lot in common with the songs of the Songbook.  In her last semi-detour from the Songbook Shepley called attention to Fran Landesman as a songwriter.  Landesman wrote one jazz standard,  “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” considered to be part of the Songbook.  Her other songs unveiled relatively recently with music composed by Simon Wallace provide numerous candidates for addition.  (Her songs started as poems.)

Nyro songs included in Shepley’s new “Can You Surry?” set include “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Eli's Coming,” “And When I Die,” and “Billy's Blues,”Emmie,” “Luckie,” and “I Never Meant to Hurt You.”

Since the subject of Barbra Streisand may be on the minds of people shunning the “Barclay’s” arena environment, we might note that Streisand, a Nyro fan, covered Nyro’s above mentioned, “I Never Meant to Hurt You.”  Streisand also famously covered Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End,” even giving her twelfth album the name of that song which album also has Nyro’s “Time and Love” and “Hands Off the Man (Flim Flam Man)”.

Below is a video teaser for Shepley's upcoming Nyro song gig at the Metropolitan Room.

Tickets are now ready for purchase from the Metropolitan Room by calling ( 212-206-0440) or visiting the web.

Shunning "Barclays"

So those are some of the current bounty of alternative choices for those participating in my suggested seven year shunning of the so-called “Barclays” Center.  (If you need to catch up: I am suggesting the Ratner/Prokhorov arena be shunned and that both patrons and performers eschew going there for at least seven years- or until the arena goes bankrupt so that ownership gets taken back and given to the public.)

You don't have to shun the "Barclays" Center: You can also enjoy the above performances as I suggest even if you don’t participate in the shunning.  (And I can’t swear that any of the performers mentioned and promoted here have taken an oath to avoid the arena- though maybe they will.)

If you are one of those deciding to patronize the arena and decide to also come to any of these performances you will probably realize that, with them, you are getting far better value and a much more intimate venue.  If nothing else the water is vastly cheaper than $4.50 water bottles they are selling at the arena.  The water at First Acoustics, like the water at Freddy’s Bar (a local music venue the arena displaced through eminent domain abuse) is free.  I haven’t checked but New York water is likely also free at the Metropolitan Room.

The tickets at the Barclays (and all the other associated charges- whether or not you expect them) are expensive, expensive enough so that you may feel fooled and foolish paying them. . .  But the thing to remember is that with all the public subsidy that Ratner and Prokhorov are pocketing and the harm they have caused the community, every ticket the arena sells actually costs a lot more.

That is why I am asking that Barbra Streisand write a $700,000 check to compensate the public for all the subsides that went to Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov for her two concerts at the arena.  We may applaud Ms. Streisand for her political support of President Obama but what would really do the most to  make the world a better place would be meaningful acts on everyone’s part, including Ms. Streisand’s,  to forestall a world where as Mr. Obama tells us the “economy grows slower” because “a few folks are doing very well at the top [like Ratner and Prokhorov] and everybody else is getting squeezed. [Like the residents of the neighborhood evicted by them and the taxpayers subsidizing them] ”

The fact of the matter is that not everyone has to shun the arena in order for it to fail: Lots of people can go to it, lots of performers can decide to perform there, putting subsidy in the Ratner/Prokhorov pockets.  But profits are made at the margin.  All it takes is for a reasonable percentage of possible patrons and quality performers to shun the arena for what it is and represents, and it can go down in a well-deserved spiral of decline.

Most Important Thing About Economy + Central Issue In Election: Obama On Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Rejects Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” Paradigm

Obama on Jon Stewart 10/18/2012 with a pinch representing Ratner and Prokhorov amongst the few benefitting from a skewing of wealth that slows the economy
President Barack Obama appeared on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show last week and at about thirteen minutes into the program (6:05 in this video) he stated clearly what he said was “the most important thing is when you think about the economy” and what he said was “the central issue in this election” which must be addressed.

And then President Obama rejected as detrimental to the nation’s economic growth the paradigm that fundamentally underpins the creation and extraordinary government assistance to the Bruce Ratner/Mikhail Prokhorov-owned “Barclays” Center and the larger Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly of which the Jay-Z-promoted “Barclays” Center is a part.

Citing the historical record for authority, Mr. Obama stated what many of us (perhaps not every Republican) might consider a basically self-evident truth: That economic growth is impaired by setting up the economy so that “a few folks are doing very well at the top and everybody else is getting squeezed.”

This is the same point I made just days ago, responding to an email I received from Barbra Streisand in which she asked me to support President Obama.  I said that the case she made for Obama and his agenda would have been much more compelling had she focused in on this disparity in wealth as the most central and important of this election’s issues.  I even commented how the International Monetary Fund has issued a report saying that this “widening disparity” in wealth is gumming up and slowing down the U.S. economy.  I likened it to how things grind to a halt at the end of a Monopoly game, when further moves cease to be possible because all the money is piled up in one place.  (See: Friday, October 19, 2012, Political Thoughts In Her Email Aside, Streisand Owes Response To Community Letter Asking “Why Play Barclays?” Plus Maybe A $700,000 Check!)

The Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly and the so-called “Barclays” Center that spearheads it is a glittering example of what not to do if the economic precepts cited by Obama are of concern to anyone.  As I keep saying: The heaped-up gleam and glitter of the “Barclays” Center seized and hoarded by the wealthy Ratner and Prokhorov, just like a folkloric pirate treasure chest, symbolizes exactly this kind of piled-up, economy-destroying redistribution of wealth.

And it is because of the huge amount of public subsidy that has been directed into the “Barclays” Center that, when Barbra suggested that I send money to support Obama and his agenda, I, in turn, suggested that Ms. Streisand write a $700,000 check to compensate the public for all the subsides that went to Ratner and Prokhorov for her two concerts at the arena.

No doubt you want to know what Obama said about the economic effects of skewing benefit to a few and exactly how he said it.  Here is his statement:
The most important thing is when you think about the economy, I am absolutely convinced that, when you look at the historical record, that when middle class families do well, when there are ladders of opportunity for poor families to get into the middle class, the entire economy does well, and when a few folks are doing very well at the top and everybody else is getting squeezed the economy grows slower.  And that is the central issue in this election that we've got to make sure we address.
You see that little pinch Obama is making with his fingers above?  That little pinch is Mr. Obama referring to the “few folks” like Mr. Ratner and Mr. Prokhorov who we have been setting up to do “very well at the top” with schemes that squeeze “everybody else” and slow the economy like Atlantic Yards and its “Barclays.”

I know that not everybody is always going to follow through to make all these connections. . .

. . .  The New York Times as a prime example doesn’t make such connections and is unlikely to observe how all of the following, to compile just a short list, are all of a piece with the preferential transfer of wealth to Ratner and Prokhorov going on in Brooklyn: The fact that, despite what Romney initially told the public, his tax liability for 2011 turned out to be a mere ten percent; that the wealthy pay proportionately less (increasingly so) of their income into the Social Security System but are taking escalating benefit from it, the harm to the public from the ongoing Barclays LIBOR scandal and the Times ongoing reality and fact-skewing promotion of Jay-Z and the “Barclays” Center.

I know also that politicians don’t also follow through on all the precepts they express when running for office. . .

. . .  But isn’t it interesting that Obama in a tight, hard-fought election rejects the foundational underpinnings that brought us the “Barclays” Center and Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly?

(Below is interview where Obama's statement is at 6:05)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Perennial Bad Penny: Barclays Name Turns Up In A New York Times Article About Hydraulic Fracturing and Bankers Behaving Badly

The “Barclays” Bank name comes up again, yet one more time in unflattering context, in another New York Times article.  This one is about investment bankers behaving badly in the context of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”  The gist of the complaint about investment bankers is that they have been making some quick bucks treating those investing in that new drilling technology very unfairly. . .  and how that is leaving them in the financial red.

Yes, “Barclays,” that bank with the LIBOR scandal-besmirched name that now brands two Brooklyn Subway hub stations and the new Bruce Ratner/Mikhail Prokhorov sports arena, a problematic here’s a how-de-do the Times only occasionally mentions while running a great deal of promotion for that so-called “Barclays” Center.  (See: Monday, September 17, 2012, NY Times Runs 3rd Article Mentioning That, Given Scandal, Promotionally Naming Subway Stations & Arena “Barclays” Is Problematic.)

While an investment banker working for Jefferies & Company, another banking firm, gets most of the article’s negative attention, Goldman Sachs earns some focus for behaving. . . well, like Goldman, all over again.

Let’s mention that Goldman was involved in financing the “Barclays” Center with tax-exempt bonds.

The Times article, although entirely in the context of fracking, is very reminiscent of so much of what has gone before and the article pays tribute to that fact, mentioning, for instance, the, “recent credit bubble” saying:
the boom and bust in gas were driven in large part by tens of billions of dollars in creative financing engineered by investment banks like Goldman Sachs, Barclays* and Jefferies & Company.
It provides plenty of unsavory details describing how  “Wall Street deal makers . . . play a vital, though less visible, role in the nation’s surging energy production” much of it, you will conclude as you read through the article, by treating investors with calculated disregard.

For more on this as well as thoughts about what the Times this time glosses over about the detrimental effects of the fracking industry in general and the particular negative implications that loom as fracking companies now face bankruptcy see: Tuesday, October 23, 2012, Investors Discover That Fracking Costs Exceed (In The Not-So-Obvious Way) Expected Financial Benefits: What The New York Times Fails To Say.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Political Thoughts In Her Email Aside, Streisand Owes Response To Community Letter Asking “Why Play Barclays?” Plus Maybe A $700,000 Check!

The "Barclays" Center advertising oculus showing Barbra Streisand, one of the singers who has not answered an open letter from the community questioning why she was performing at the Ratner/Prokhorov arena 
Does Barbra Streisand owe the local citizens of her native Brooklyn and New York $700,000?  The way I figure it maybe she does.  Maybe we should send her a bill asking for her check.

Ms. Streisand Owes Community A Response To Letter

No matter what, Ms. Streisand still owes the community a response to the open letter that Develop Don’t Destroy sent to her and Leonard Cohen asking: `Why are you playing the “Barclays” (as in LIBOR scandal) arena?'

The so-called “Barclays” Center (that Streisand has now already played without responding to that letter) is, of course, the arena owned by developer/subsidy collector Bruce Ratner and Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov.  It’s gone a long way to corporatize Brooklyn while representing a vast transfer of wealth from the many to the few.

What Ms. Streisand Owes To The Public For Subsidizing Her Concerts

I am not suggesting that Barbra may owe $700,000 to New York citizens because of the long list of complaints the community says it is suffering because that arena was shoehorned into the middle of Brooklyn brownstone neighborhoods (overriding zoning restrictions that prohibit an arena closer than 200 feet to residences).  (See: Wednesday, October 17, 2012, Bullet Points: Community Objections to “Barclays” (LIBOR) Arena Operations (Most Relate Back To Zoning Override Locating Arena Close To Residences) .

. . Nor is it because that it was for “Barclays” that Freddy’s bar (a local music venue) and other Brooklynites and businesses were evicted by eminent domain abuse to make way for Barbra. . .

. . . .  I am suggesting that when you do the calculations the subsidy forcibly exacted from the public for performances at the “Barclays” Center can be assessed as coming to about $20.00 per seat per performance.  (See: Wednesday, October 10, 2012, Weighing The Change In Brooklyn: The True Cost Of “Barclays” Center Glitter, The Cost Of “Barclays” Center Tickets.)  If the resulting subsidy to the Streisand concerts is calculated at their reportedly sold-our capacity in an 18,200 seat arena (or, to be precise should that figure be rolled back to 17,732 if the arena operators didn’t actually finish installing the seats yet?), you can do the multiplication (move the decimal point, multiply by 2 and then by 2 again, the second time to take into account both of Streisand’s two concerts) and that comes to over $700,000 (or, more precisely, $.709 Million plus change).

The Streisand concerts may have been considered a big success but they were a big subsidized success.

The exact figures are hard to calculate in terms of the best way to figure present value in attributing subsidy over the years it might be amortized, but if you go with the rough figures I generated, Barbra probably owes the public a lot for the subsidy we (Freddy's now relocated bar included) are paying for in our taxes.

A Conversation In The “Barclays” “Daily News” Plaza

The other day I was caught scowling outside the “Barclays” Center by a scrubbed and gussied-up woman of about forty about to go into the first Streisand Concert.  “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“She shouldn’t be doing this,” I said, “. . .  And she calls herself an activist.”

“And it’s `Barclays’!” I said pointing to what some refer to as the “Barclays Vulture” above our heads.  She gave me an appreciative, knowing nod.

I asked her if she know how much her ticket cost.  She said she did.  I asked her if she knew how much it cost after I and the rest of the public got done paying for it . . .

“A lot more!” I said.  Her face fell and she looked truly distressed.

Who Got The Subsidy?

Barbra probably didn’t wind up personally pocketing a lot of that subsidy.  It was probably mostly pocketed by Ratner and Prokhorov because they get to charge the public going rates . . and pay their headline acts going rates. . . because when they got all that subsidy they got it without any regulations that require them to pass benefits on to anyone else.

Should Barbra write the community a check?  Maybe not for $700,000, but, as a woman of conscience, she could take a look at the figures and decide how much she appropriately owes back.  Besides, it should be remembered that by performing at the “Barclays” Center Ms. Streisand helped send public money where it does not belong: Into the pockets of Ratner and Prokhorov.

Perhaps all performers at the “Barclays” Center should be routinely asked to consider writing a check back to the public.  The question then would be:  How to get that money back, divvied up proportionally, to those deserving of the reparations?

Email Arrives For Me From Barbra

Meanwhile there is that open letter from the community that Ms. Streisand has still not responded to. . .
. . . Watching my inbox for a response from Ms. Streisand to the community’s open letter asking her why she was playing the “Barclays” Center, I saw that yesterday I had gotten an email from Ms. Streisand.  It was (per its subject line) about “This election” (i.e. the presidential one that’s ongoing.)  Yes, it was a form email.

I am glad that Streisand is coming to President Obama’s aid with support for his agenda, which she alerts us that Republicans have been blocking, but as a personally-couched political solicitation it was a bit disappointing because it provided only a scant window into Ms. Streisand’s own thinking.

Importance Of Voting For Obama: Programs Skewing Income And Wealth Are Bad For The Economy

I happen to believe that there is very good reason to vote for Mr. Obama over Mitt Romney: Romney champions programs, tax structures and alterations to Medicare and Social Security, that will further skew the allocation of income and wealth in this country to those who are already far wealthier than others.  And I agree with the analysis of the International Monetary Fund that this “widening disparity” gums up and slows down the economy.  (See: National Notice, Thursday, October 18, 2012, How Big A Lie Did Mitt Romney Tell When He Said His Federal Taxes Were Never Less Than Thirteen Percent Of His Income? (And Why It Affects The Economy).). . . I think of the ill effects to the economy as being sort of like when things grind to a halt at the end of a Parker Brothers Monopoly game, when further moves cease to be possible because all the money is piled up in one place. 

I have previously pointed out that the heaped up gleam and glitter of the “Barclays” Center, like a folkloric pirate treasure chest, symbolizes that same kind of piled-up, economy-destroying redistribution of wealth, an accumulation of pirate booty, illegally seized and hoarded by the wealthy Ratner and Prokhorov.

How Barbra’s Political Concerns Ought To Jibe With All The Rest Of Our Concerns

Why is Barbra Streisand supporting Barack Obama for reelection?

The concerns Streisand expresses in her email (when she says “This election presents a clear choice”) while not exactly on point in recognizing what I have just expressed, nevertheless dovetail with these concerns.  Streisand writes:
Democrats will protect Medicare and strengthen environmental protections. Health care reform will be fully implemented and critical investments will be made in jobs and education to strengthen the middle-class.    
Medicare and Social Security are in jeopardy because of the Republican proclivity to redistribute more wealth to the already wealthy.

Likewise, health care reform and education.

Assaults on the environment are also often tricky attempts by corporations, like those in the fossil fuel industry, looking to steal public wealth and assets without paying for them.

The very existence of the middle-class is threatened by the increased skewing of wealth and income.  What is happening on the national stage with redistribution of wealth and the way it adversely affects the economy is no different from what is happening with the “Barclays” Center.  It is all of the same cloth.

And jobs?  The kind of top-down corporatizing takeovers (promoted by Bain Capital, or whomever) are as antithetical to job creation as they are to income equality.  That kind of corporatizing takeover is what was done when a local economic ecosystem that was competing with Ratner was scooped out and thrown away to make way for Ratner's mega-monopoly.

You can also find this posted on Ms. Streisand's own website: Reducing Income Inequality Is the Key to Economic Growth -- Time to Pass the Buffett Rule.

Checks To “Get America Moving Again”
In her email Ms. Streisand asked me and my family to do something we’ve already done and are happy at her urging to do yet again: Send a check to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).  She said it was what was needed “to get America moving again.”

I agree it’s time to get America moving again, particularly America’s economy, and that means starting to reverse the grotesque redistributions of wealth from the middle-class and the less-advantaged many to the far wealthier few. . .
. . . And for that reason I am asking Ms. Streisand to write a check to refund the subsidies to her concerts: Maybe $700,00 . .  or at least the portion thereof that Ms. Streisand herself calculates she owes to the public for having performed at the “Barclays” Center.  I think that if she and all others performing at the “Barclays” Center were to do that it would make a powerful statement and help “to get America moving again.” 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bullet Points: Community Objections to “Barclays” (LIBOR) Arena Operations (Most Relate Back To Zoning Override Locating Arena Close To Residences)

The "Barclays" Center advertising oculus showing Barbra Streisand, one of the singers who has not answered an open letter from the community questioning why she is performing at the Ratner/Prokhorov arena 
When I came out of yesterday evening’s Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting I wasn’t going to write anything about it.  Of course there is going to be awkwardness and impacts to the community concerning the operation of the Ratner/Prokhorov so-called "Barclays" arena for which several city blocks were conjoined and certainly an aggrieved community, not enthusiastic bout the arena’s arrival, would be eager to complain. . . .and surely Atlantic Yards Report could be counted upon to quickly provide detailed coverage of the meeting.

But when I slept on it I thought: Why not just hit the highlights with a few bullet points?  That shortened format might help to call attention to the fact that the community’s list of gripes about arena operation is long and that almost all the problems in evidence relate back to the state decision (endorsed by Bloomberg) to override zoning restrictions and shoehorn an arena in closer than 200 feet to the brownstone neighborhood residences of the vicinity.  Besides, whatever Atlantic Yards Report may faithfully chronicle in fastidious detail, the rest of the media seems intent on ignoring the arena’s many negatives.

So here is my bullet list:
    •    Public Urination.  There is much reported (and officially acknowledged) public urination on the streets around the arena.  There was also one reported incidence of defecation. Forest City Ratner is willing to assume responsibility for dealing with (via extra lighting) and cleaning up after the urination in the doorway of Modell’s sporting goods store because Modell’s is their tenant, but was quick to point out that nearby townhouse owners were responsible for their own cleanup.  There was also complaint about clothing being changed in public.

    •    311 Complaints.  The Mayor’s office is likely responsible for the fact that the city’s 311 system has adopted an official policy of refusing to take any complaints about the publicly sponsored, publicly funded arena, deeming it to be a matter for private resolution with arena officials.  Several times the community representatives complained that there was no way to document incidences of complaint (and presumably also ensure followup) as well as it’s being unclear who (amongst a long list of potentials) should be contacted about what.  Right now the answer seems to be that lots of people need to be contacted about most problems.  Forest City Representatives indicated they don’t consider they can respond to, or be responsible for, anything about which they are not contacted about directly.

    •    Backed up trucks loading the arena.   Truck loading and unloading for the arena is not functioning as anticipated, resulting in backing up on local streets and idling trucks.  A Forest City representative suggested that this was partly because the arena was opened and its operations started before the arena was fully complete so that they haven’t been able to properly utilize interior space as planned.

    •    Black car management.  Black car management is an issue.  No one knows where all the backing up black cars should be sent.  Although a community representative pointed out that the need to deal with black cars must have been anticipated, the arena officials are only now trying to figure out a plan that will work to address the issue.  Apparently, there were lots of black cars for the Barbra Streisand concert.

    •    Assaultive Advertising Oculus.  The arena oculus’s illuminated advertising screen with all its bright billboard animations gets left on overnight and when people forget to turn it off as they leave there is then no one there to turn it off.  In theory it is supposed to be turned off from 1:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  Arena officials had no explanation for the community as to why the oculus needed to operate as late as 1:00 AM or start as early as  5:00 PM in the morning instead of providing for a more extended period of quiet respite from advertising.  Arena officials also could not say whether they had contractual commitments affecting when they planned and needed to run the oculus.  Light from the oculus is most broadly transmitted through the neighborhood when light from the oculus hits mist or fog and lights up the sky.  I found it pathetic when one neighbor said she could accept the advertising light coming in her residence window but just wanted to plead for better, more soothing and restful advertising, eliminating pulsating flashing lights that many ads in the oculus use.  She said found living with the Barbra Streisand advertising was the easier variety to endure.

    •    Laser light show complaints.  Arena officials, seeming somewhat abashed (an odd instance of this) could not explain what the laser light shows from the top of the arena were all about.  They said, however, they were just for the opening of the arena and wouldn’t happen again.

    •    Arena playing music for plaza crowds.  It looks like the operators of the arena have been violating city law by playing music for the crowds outside the arena. They said it was news to them that they might need a permit for this.  They also suggested that they didn’t think they needed a permit because they weren’t actually the ones playing the music for the crowds in the plaza, that it was their building that was playing the music for the crowds in the arena.

    •    Nearby Modell’s sporting goods store playing music for outside crowds.  Modell’s, the nearby sporting goods store that is a Forest City Ratner tenant, seems to have gotten into the concert spirit and is also now playing music outside their store.  Apparently they have been repeatedly told not to do this and gotten violations which they may be ignoring as fractional cost of generating extra business.

    •    Truckers that don’t obey truck route and other rules.  Arena officials complained about how little control they had over teamster truckers who were choosing to ignore their directives to follow rules.  (There was discussion about how “big” you had to be to effectively communicate with these truckers.  One community representative asked if this was to be interpreted to mean that, because the arena officials professed not to have control, the community should expect that it, in turn, had no control through those officials.  Could be.  Seems so.  It was asked whether ESD, the state agency that granted all the overrides of local controls to make the arena possible, had any control over the arena officials, if so, what kind of control.  Could be.

    •    Sound emanating from concerts escaping into the neighborhood.  There are different kinds of sound that can escape from the arena concerts.  A police official (worried about providing TMI) said that legally they fell into five categories, four of which were actually relevant.  She characterized the Jay-Z concerts as having something called “bass prevalent” sound.  Windows are reported to have been shaking from the bass a full block away.  Officials who showed up at nearby residences to monitor sound froma Jay-Z concert reportedly elected to leave again before the concert started: Jay-Z likes to start his concerts long after the official starting time.  Questions were raised about whether something was wrong with the arena’s sound proofing and insulation.  The representative from the state agency that sponsored the arena and permitting its overrides said she was confident in the arena work that had been done to date.

    •    Illegal substances being consumed in arena.  Apparently people have been smoking pot in the arena during concerts.

    •    Crowd surges outside the arena at exit time.  Crowds have surged from the arena to outside streets in inconsistent unpredictable patterns.  Different crowds surge differently: Jay-Z crowds surge out in twenty minutes while Barbra Streisand crowds (who also maxed out the entire available wheelchair supply) amble out in 35 minutes.  Decisions have had to be made, on an ad hoc basis (it’s impossible to have pre-existing plans in place), to halt vehicular traffic on Atlantic Avenue to accommodate the crowds.  One community-expressed worry is that pedestrians will be pushed out into the path of vehicular traffic.  One police officer commented that one night, with an unexpected surge from the arena, “we were losing [residential] Dean Street.”

    •     Unclear what police resources are being devoted.  City Council member Tish James thought that, at one point, about 150 officers had been devoted to a concert. A police representative said it was a number more nearly less than half that. Maybe the answer is that the number is closer to a 150 if you include transit police in the overall figure as well and maybe DOT officers.  Based on what I saw I think this might be a good guess to explain the differential in the numbers offered.  But the numbers of police that will be devoted to concerts is uncertain and will probably vary.

    •    Crowded subway stations.  Subway station platforms are reportedly very crowed when arena patrons surge out.  One community representative said the crowding was dangerous enough so that there were those who felt they had to exit the station rather than continue ot wait for a train.  WNYC’s Transportation Nation reports that LIRR crowds for the Streisand concert were more than four times what is normal and subway ridership was also substantially up.  Running more subway trains was suggested.

    •     Illegal parking and idling.   Arena patrons are supposed to be grabbing local parking spots whether legal or, as where hydrants are, illegal.  Cars are also idling, without parking, adding to pollution.  Tish James said that Fort Greene and South Portland street were getting the brunt of these problems.

    •    Previously undisclosed parking pad next to the arena.  Apparently there is a parking pad being used next to the arena that the community was not told about beforehand.  The community complained that this meant a presumed buffer was nonexistent.  Arena officials said the parking pad was required by the NBA for visiting team buses (but should it get other use as well?).

    •    Sanitation.  Sanitation was not reported to be that much of a problem but the arena has attracted lots of food trucks, resulting in potentially rat-attracting trash and there is no easy way to ban the licensed food trucks from the area.

    •    Unlicensed vendors creating bazaar.   Apparently the arena has also started to attract unlicensed vendors so that something of a bazaar is beginning to form around the arena.
Forest City Ratner and arena officials suggested that they only have to deal with what they consider “kinks,” that they should be viewed with some tolerance as being a “start-up,” and that it should be remembered that so far there have been only two concerts to evaluate.  On the other hand, one community representative warned that Lady Gaga would be showing up with a somewhat startling 45 semis when she comes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

“Barclays”? Atlantic Yards?: On Lopate, NY Mag Architectural Critic Justin Davidson Disses Brooklyn Neighborhoods With Manhattancentric Illiteracy

Neighborhood corner with Freddy's Bar (now gone): According to architectural critic Justin Davidson the neighbrohood had "no character"
Maybe we should just rename New York Magazine, “Manhattan Magazine”  . .   That might help to remind us that Brooklyn, for all its importance, still doesn’t get the kind of informed, mindful coverage it deserves.  (While we are at it, also to remind us where things stand, we can rename the New York Post and the Brooklyn Papers Rupert’s Real Estate Rags.”  Murdock, at least-- a relief, sold and no longer still owns New York Magazine which languished under him.) . . .

 . . . Justin Davidson, New York Magazine’s architectural critic appeared on WYNC’s Leonard Lopate show yesterday, probably because he has written prominently run stories recently about the new Ratner/Prokhorov-owned arena in Brooklyn, the so-called “Barclays” (as in LIBOR scandal) Center and Manhattan’s 26-acre Hudson Yards mega-project.

Lopate was asking him about how the Bloomberg administration’s development approach had “transformed” city neighborhoods.  At the beginning of that interview Davidson, right off the bat, winds up dissing Brooklyn as he displays a Manhattancentric illiteracy of the value of its neighborhoods.
Lopate: Are we doing a good job tailoring developments to match the existing character of neighborhoods?  For example, the Barclays Center has caused great controversy: It’s been getting good reviews but many remain unhappy about its design and the way its site fits with its neighborhood.

Davidson: So, neighborhood character is one of those intangible things and perhaps the most difficult thing to preserve, because even preserving the buidings in a neighborhood doesn’t do anything to preserve the character.  Preservation is about `stuff,’ it’s about bricks and the physicality of the neighborhood, but preserving the architectural legacy of say Greenwich Village over the last, say, half century, hasn’t done anything to slow, in fact you could argue it’s accelerated the change of what happens there, who lives there, the economics of it are, and the character itself.  So, preserving what it looks like, almost by definition, changes what it feels like.

Now, as far as the Barclays Center is concerned I’d say that the context there is that particular block at the triangular intersection, the angular intersection of two large trafficked avenues is very distinct from the character from the blocks immediately adjacent, the residential blocks.  So when you say it’s changed the character, you really have to look at `What character?’ very precisely.  I would say that there was no character right on that site, and that’s a good place to have a really bold muscular building that does intrude, that does change things.

Lopate: Although design people were upset by the larger project, the whole Atlantic Yards project.  Do you think that’s likely to be built in the future?  Because it’s on hold at the moment but I don’t see anybody planning anything in that area.

Davidson: Well, uh: The whole of the Atlantic Yards project has to unfold according to a site plan that was pretty much set in motion . .  It flows from the Gehry design for that whole area.

Lopate: Except that he’s been excluded from much of that.

Davidson: He has but he’s still the site planner and that plan is still in force.  And it’s based on that a lot of the . . uhm . .  public monies and the incentives were put into place.  So legally, they have to follow that plan.  Now, eventually they may be able to change it, but for the moment that plan is in force.  So I think that will probably play out over many years.  The immediate. . uhm. . future of that site is that you’re going to have the arena that’s free-standing, and I think that what will happen is that the three towers on that triangular plot, right around the arena, will get built.  Uhm, that leaves the whole rest of the yards site and, of course, you know . .  Eventually it’ll have to get built.  I mean a site that open just can’t stay open forever in New York City.

Click to listen below:

Before the “Barclays” Center there was “no character” at that site?

The plan for Atlantic Yards mega-project “flows from” a “Gehry design” that developer/subsidy collector Forest City Ratner is “legally” obligated to follow?

Davidson is carelessly promulgating misinformation that’s in service to the Ratner narrative.  He does so notwithstanding a level of scrutiny he gave to Manhattan’s comparable, but overall smaller, Hudson Yards only a week ago which level of scrutiny is entirely inconsistent with such ignorant assessments.

In describing the “Barclays” site as previously having “no character” Davidson describes it as a single block that was at the triangular intersection of two large trafficked avenues.  That’s what it is now: It's not just a “block” but a newly created superblock created out of what were previously three blocks.  Previously, it wasn’t just between two avenues: Previously, Fifth Avenue and Pacific Street flowed through that now superblock block to define those three individual, separate blocks.

One of the newly renovated residential buildings torn down to clear the way for the arena
Another newly renovated residentail building
And if Davidson is to consider his own point that preserving a neighborhood means paying attention to “the economics of it” and “the character” of a neighborhood (presumably with respect to its interwoveness with the rest of the city), then he should note that what was cleared away at the “Barclays” site just to make way for arena included, but was not limited to, Freddy’s, a neighborhood bar and music venue, and two large newly renovated condominium buildings.  Freddy’s was an anchor and a gathering place generating neighborhood connection.  The two condominium were also more important than just what they were themselves: They set the tone and example for development that was taking off in the neighborhood, something the Ratner organization elected to wipe out because it was competing with its own properties which Ratner wasn’t developing at the time.

In talking about the “Barclays” site Davidson keeps focusing on the triangularity of the plot.  That is probably a clue to the fact that he has spent most of his time appraising the arena from the triangular plaza to which the “bold muscular building” presents itself.  It may be true that across Atlantic Avenue from that plaza you have the two Ratner shopping center malls and that these may be viewed as having “no character.”  But across Fulton Avenue from that plaza is a community garden now dwarfed in scale by Ratner’s newly created superblock and the illuminated pyrotechnics of its 24/7 advertising oculus.

Go around back of the arena and you will see the abject, brutal characterlessness the arena presents to the neighborhood where Freddy’s bar and new residences once stood.
Police barricades in back of arena to create neighbrohod character: Where Freddy's used to be

Neighborhood "character" courtsey of the back of arena 
In praising the character that the “Barclays” Center is bringing to the neighborhood, Davidson is praising a top-down corporatizing of a previously locally energetic Brooklyn.  It is being done with government assistance that makes everyone else pay for this takeover by the corporations.
Front of arena: New corporatizing charcter for neighborhood

And it is not just from the Barclays site that Ratner cleared and scooped out existing neighborhood fabric: The same thing was done in the larger Atlantic Yards site where you now see newly created superbocks of Ratner parking. 
Partial view of the very long fence around Ratner superblock now mostly used for parking
That Davidson thinks there was nothing of character in the neighborhood before, and that he now predicts that, probably playing out “over many years,” the Atlantic Yards mega-project will be built because, “I mean a site that open just can’t stay open forever in New York City” only serves to emphasize how smart Ratner probably thought he was as he raced to dismantle and demolish as much of the neighborhood as quickly as possible (buildings like the historic Ward Bakery building that would have ben exquisitely repurposed, except for Ratner) so that people like Davidson would buy into and promulgate the official Ratner narrative.

The Ward Bakery Building demolished by Ratner for his parking lot and so it couldn't be repurposed for competing neighbrohood development
As for the idea that the site plan for Atlantic Yards somehow hews to (or is legally obligated to follow) any vestige of a Gehry design is ludicrous.  Even on the "Barclays" block, where the first of the construction is occurring, virtually nothing hearkens back to any sort of Gehry influence.  What actually carries over are the things that reflect the marching orders Gehry got from Ratner: To squeeze in an unprecedented amount of density and close down the streets, avenues and sidewalks, creating superblocks, to get even greater density than otherwise possible.

It would be nice to believe, as Davidson posits, that there is some sort of envelope of constraining obligation that affects Ratner but that isn’t the case, especially since Ratner has been granted a mega-monopoly with which negotiation is a practical impossibility.  Every time Ratner comes back to government officials looking to change his deal he gets more subsidy and diminished obligations to the public.

As for a binding “site plan,” consider what Davidson describes in his article about the Hudson Yards mega-project that’s on the drawing boards:
Architects discuss access points, sidewalk widths, ceiling heights, flower beds, and the qualities of crushed-stone pathways. You could almost forget that none of this exists yet—until one architect points to a lozenge-shaped skyscraper and casually, with a twist of his wrist, remarks that he's thinking of swiveling it 90 degrees.
It’s not any different with Atlantic Yards at this point either.

You must read Davidson’s recent article on Hudson Yards as a check against his stunningly casual acceptance of the Atlantic Yards situation.  In that article Davidson conveys many misgivings with respect to the sole ownership of Hudson Yards by the Related Companies, misgivings that should also apply to the plan for the larger Ratner Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly in spades with many more misgivings added on top.  But he doesn’t make the connections. .  Woe is us.  Woe to Brooklyn.  (See: Friday, October 12, 2012,  Justin Davidson’s New York Magazine Review Of Hudson Yards Echos Concerns Raised By NNY, But Does So Without Mentioning Obvious Atlantic Yards Parallels.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Justin Davidson’s New York Magazine Review Of Hudson Yards Echos Concerns Raised By NNY, But Does So Without Mentioning Obvious Atlantic Yards Parallels

This week’s New York Magazine presents us with Justin Davidson’s “exclusive preview” of Hudson Yards:  From 0 to 12 Million Square Feet, published Oct 7, 2012.

That well worth reading article manages to raise a number of points that echo issues Noticing New York has been writing about, including a concern Noticing New York revisited and featured in an article posted here the day before Davidson review.  This concern was highlighted in the teaser caption leading into the Davidson review (“In a few weeks, construction begins on New York’s largest development ever. Hudson Yards is handsome, ambitious, and potentially full of life. Should we care that it’s also a giant slab of private property?”) and Davidson further zeroed in on it with the two concluding paragraphs with which he buttoned up his four page review of the coming project: Should we worry that  this “Mega-metropolis” is private property of a single owner?:
The plaza is the node where the site’s conflicting forces reveal themselves: the tension between public and private, between city and campus, between democratic space and commercial real estate. Occupy Wall Street’s takeover of Zuccotti Park last year pointed up the oxymoron inherent in the concept of privately owned public space: You can do anything you like there, as long as the owners deem it okay. Childs hopes that his client’s insistence on premium-brand design won’t make Hudson Yards just the province of privilege. “We want this project to be laced through with public streets, so that everyone has ownership of it, whether you’re arriving in your $100,000 limo or pushing a shopping cart full of your belongings.”

The plans include drop-off lanes, so the limos are taken care of. But if the shopping-cart pushers, buskers, protesters, skateboarders, and bongo players start feeling too welcome at Hudson Yards, Related’s security guards will have a ready-made argument to get them to disperse: This is private property.
Here is Noticing New York’s last meditation on precisely that subject: Sunday, October 7, 2012, Will The “Daily News” Plaza at the “Barclays” (LIBOR) Center Be A Public Space For Free Speech?: Police Issue A Directive To The Contrary.)

The thing to note is that all the valid concerns in the Davidson review, including this one, respecting the 26-acre Hudson Yards project also apply (and get focus on from Noticing New York) in terms of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly but there is no mention of this by Davidson.  In fact, the language of the Davidson article is frequently written in a way that seem to imply that the sister mega-project Atlantic Yards must not even exist, this right at the same time as all the current hoopla accompanying the opening of the first Atlantic Yards building, the so-called “Barclays” Center, and just weeks after Davidson’s own New York Magazine review of that “Barclays” Center in an issue if the magazine featuring a cover story about the arena’s debut.

The New York Magazine description of Hudson Yards as a “Mega-metropolis” is reminiscent of Noticing New York’s regular description of Atlantic Yards as a mega-monopoly.”   Compared to the 26-acre Hudson Yards, the Ratner mega-monopoly, placed atop the converging ganglia of Brooklyn’s most important subway lines, consists of 50+ acres.  Most of those Ratner acres are contiguous, a contiguity achieved through government assistance; eminent domain abuse for their acquisition by Ratner and subsidy for his continued ownership.  At the Atlantic Yards site itself there are more than 30 contiguous Ratner-owned acres.  The Atlantic Yards site itself is nominally just 22 acres, but that doesn’t change the fact that with the adjacent property already owned by Ratner when he decided to wipe out competition in the neighborhood (via eminent domain), it’s 30+ contiguous acres all together.  And the Forest City Ratner overall plan concerns the entire 30+ acres.

The other thing that makes the Ratner mega-monopoly comparatively more extreme is the immense jump in density preferentially assigned to the Ratner-owned property over that of his neighbors.  Not so with Hudson Yards: Hudson Yards is only slightly more dense than its surrounding neighborhood.*  The Hudson Yards density is odd because the greater density the neighborhood ought to be the property closest to the subway lines, but the oddnesses are not so nearly as odd as the extremely preferential density being granted Ratner with an override of city zoning that was not subject to traditional public review.

(* What is considered dense in midtown areas relative to other midtown areas may start changing:   The Bloomberg administration recently unveiled plans to almost double-- starting in 2017-- the density of Manhattan’s already very dense Midtown business district surrounding Grand Central, from 39th Street to 57th Street on the East Side.) 

I have presented Noticing New York criticisms of Hudson Yards but in many ways the government handling of Hudson Yards is significantly superior to Atlantic Yards.  Hudson Yards was subject to a fairly careful competitive bid: Atlantic Yards was not.  The MTA got what was probably the best price that could be gotten for Hudson Yards, given the way the request for bids issued was structured: Not so Atlantic Yards where there was what was essentially an escalating giveaway by the MTA to the developer on multiple fronts.

In terms of design caliber I also thought that the Related Companies proposed design for the Hudson Yards site was one of the better designs. . .  Not the best— I thought that the design presented by Brookfield Properties* was the best— but better than the poor design of Tishman Speyer, the company that first won the right to Hudson Yards acres and then defaulted on fulfilling the terms of their bid.

(* Ironically, since we are speaking in key respects about free speech in essentially public space that winds up subjected to privatization, it is impossible not to note that in a universe that is growing absurdly small in terms of the identifiable 1%, Brookfield is the nominally “private” owner of Zuccotti Park without whose participation there couldn’t have been an eviction of Occupy Wall Street’s 99% from that park.)

The better attributes of Hudson Yards notwithstanding, I have been critical of the Hudson Yards plan in several respects, going back a number of years.  For one thing it's too dense.  My major criticism is that rather than bidding out the site as a whole to one developer years ago (and have it lie fallow for so long), government should have prepared the site itself, then bid out subdivided parcels to multiple developers:
If the government (as opposed to a private developer) was preparing the site it would not be necessary to postpone the site’s preparation at this time. Site preparation during the current economic downturn might even be cheaper. As it would be a public work, it would arguably be in the running for funding through federal stimulus, an important part of that being that the prepared parcels would later be bid out. But stimulus money cannot be given to a private developer already signed onto the deal because it would totally change the equation based upon which the developer bid to pay the public a low amount for the site. Used that way, the money would eliminate the risk developer assumed and constitute an award of enormous private benefit to the developer without bid.
Just the way that real estate developers create value by subdividing property, had the government subdivided Hudson Yards (and Atlantic Yards) like what was done with the Battery Park City site, the cumulative amount government would get for the acreage it sold would be far greater.

Speaking in larger terms that applied to this and multiple other projects being championed by the Bloomberg administration at the time I said:
Strip things down to their core and you find that something is being sold. What is being sold is what belongs to public. Sometimes it is referred to as the “public realm.” That means such things as the right not to have our streets and avenues closed and sold off, the right to our historic neighborhoods, the right to good urban design, livable density and the right not to have our parks or amusement areas like Coney Island given away for development or speculative purchase.
Davidson, in his Hudson Yards review, presents his misgiving about the single developer approach in design terms: The potential for the possible “thrilling coherence” of “auteur” style development versus the risks of  “a place of oppressive uniformity, where each aesthetic miscalculation is multiplied many times over.”   Or, as Noticing New York has written, from a Jane Jacobs perspective, will we, with the single ownership of mega-projects, experience the banes of regimentation and monotony?  Davidson notes that the Related Companies were responsible for the Columbus Circle Time Warner project (rather mall-ish in Noticing New York’s estimation) and offer the none-too-encouraging observation that Hudson Yards could be that Columbus Circle project writ large:
 . .if you imagine the complex blown out to five times its size, you begin to get a sense of what’s coming at Hudson Yards. . .   But massive as it is, the Time Warner Center is dainty by comparison.”
Net Net: By subdividing properties like Hudson Yards and Atlantic Yards to be bid out and developed by multiple developers the public gets: 1.) Faster development, 2.) more money for the land it is selling, and 3.) better design.

In addition to what's said about free speech in public areas that have been "privatized," Davidson’s article is filled with other statements that cry out for a refrain of “What about Atlantic Yards?” in response:
    •    New York has no precedent for such a dense and complex neighborhood, covering such a vast range of uses, built in one go.           
            What about the bigger and more intrusive Atlantic Yards?

    •    $3 billion in taxpayer-funded improvements encircle the Related fiefdom—not including city tax abatements. “Where else have you ever seen this kind of public money for infrastructure to service a whole new development, in the heart of the city, with that much land and no obstacles?”           
            What about the huge amount of subsidy going to Atlantic Yards?  It’s hard to do apples to apples comparisons but $2-$3 billion in subsidies are going to Atlantic Yards.

    •    [On squeezing suitable public open space in amongst oversized skyscrapers] That’s a spectacular challenge; there are few great models for a European-style piazza within a ring of skyscrapers.
            What about Atlantic Yards?  Its towers too will be inordinately belittling to their interspersed public spaces.  Davidson quotes Thomas Woltz, the landscape architect charged with the challenge:  “In an open space next to 1,000-foot towers, our tallest tree is going to be like an ant next to a tall man’s shoe”

    •    Bloomberg hoped to draw the 2012 Olympics to New York with promises of a West Side stadium. The fact that London won the games was a disappointment to him but a stroke of luck for the West Side, scuttling what would have been a disastrous stadium plan, while at the same time calling attention to the value of the real estate above the tracks.
            What about Atlantic Yards that jammed a sports arena into the middle of conjoining brownstone neighborhoods and overriding city ordinances that should have required at least 200 feet of distance between such an arena and residences.  The West Side stadium wouldn’t have done that.

    •    The site as a whole is a yawning pit, not so much a blank slate as an empty socket, surrounded by amenities and infrastructure just waiting to be plugged in.
             What about Atlantic Yards?  Don’t people need to be reminded that the Atlantic Yards footprint, by comparison, wasn’t “an empty socket,” that 60% of it was a neighborhood that was a mixture of valuable historic buildings, busy business, and a lot of recent new development, all of which was scooped out and thrown away to make way for Ratner?
The Davidson article is full of good points and presents much to mull over, but as with so much in life what isn’t said may be more important than what is said . . .  Interesting in an article that buttons up its ending with concluding statements about the value of free speech when its exercised!