Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gifts We Are NOT Getting- For New York City's Libraries

Tom Wolfe at the White House, from Wikipedia
It’s the holidays!  The gift-giving season!. .

. .  Let’s talk about some gifts that are not being given these days. . .  to New York City’s libraries.

Previously, Noticing New York has written about how it is a problem these days if you want to give to New York City libraries because what you give to libraries paid for with taxpayer and charitable contributions might well be wasted when libraries are sold.  Donations might even be used to sell, shrink and dismantle New York’s library system assets.  See: Wednesday, October 30, 2013, Conundrum For Those Wanting To Donate To Libraries: People Who Would Use Our Donations To Shrink and Sell Off Libraries.

Perhaps the New York Public Library felt a little distraction was in order.  At the November 20, 2013. NYPL trustees’s meeting Tony Marx finished up his president’s report to the trustees hinting at a headline grabber that would be unveiled at the end of the meeting concerning an “amazing note and celebration of another gift to the library.”  This turned out to be the NYPL’s acquisition of the `Tom Wolfe papers.’  When the time came for Mr. Marx to talk about this acquisition, he reported it under the rubric of enhanced “public accessibility” and described it as an “ongoing gift,” . . . “the gift that keeps on giving” because Mr. Wolf would, in moving his collection of papers to the library, also send everything that is subsequently “added to his collection.”

Why might Mr. Marx have been especially eager to showcase a gift to the NYPL from a celebrated author with great fanfare?  Because, months before in June, what had made the pages of New York Times respecting the NYPL was that Edmund Morris, another celebrated author had announced he "no longer intended to leave his research archive to the library as had been planned" because the library was no a longer fit repository for preserving works or making them available to the public.  Mr. Morris announced this as he was giving testimony before a state assembly hearing expressing his concern that the NYPL was proposing to gut the stacks of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, part of the consolidating shrinkage of the “Central Library Plan” whereby two other major libraries, Mid-Manhattan and the Science, Industry Business Library (SIBL) are supposed to be sold off in real estate deals.  The New York Times quoted Mr. Morris as follows:
An exquisite repository is now going to be turned into a populist hangout, and have its former stack space stuffed with more and more and more and more miles of computer cable . . . That’s O.K. for scholars whose attention span extends back no farther than the early 1980s. But those of us cognizant of what happened to civilization after the great library in Alexandria burned down can only think with trepidation of what the Central Plan is going to do to the historical memory of New York.
(See: Critics Prompt New Review of Library Plan, by Robin Pogrebin, June 27, 2013.)

Mr. Morris’ full testimony can be watched here:



Pulitzer Author Edmund Morris Testifies Against Central Library Plan, Published on Jul 11, 2013 (on Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel- I am a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries and a promoter of its petition opposing the sale of  New York City libraries.)

So, given a few months, the NYPL had, via Mr. Wolfe, come up with an attention-getting counter to Mr. Morris’ criticism and bad news.  The only problem was that the papers coming from Mr. Wolfe are not going to be a gift.  The library will be paying for them, a reasonably appreciable amount at that:
$2.15 Million.  See:  Right Stuff? The Library Thinks So, and Buys It- Library Acquires Tom Wolfe’s Papers for $2.15 Million, by Jennifer Schuessler, November 20, 2013.

To be fair, Mr. Wolfe’s papers are truly likely to be of interest to those who look a back a little way in time so Mr. Morris’ jab at “scholars whose attention span extends back no farther than the early 1980s” was not perfectly prescient if Mr. Morris had thought to be envisioning something like the Wolfe collection when he spoke.  Mr. Wolfe’s first novel, "Bonfire of the Vanities," may have been released only as recently as 1987 but Mr. Wolfe was receiving significant public recognition going back to the cusp when the late 1960s turned into the early 1970s.  Even so, Wolfe might still be viewed as sufficiently topical in nature and not yet so thoroughly tested by time as to make one wonder about Mr. Marx's self-congratulatory praise for the transaction quoted in the Times stressing history: “It will add significantly to the library’s holdings not just in American literature but in the history of New York City as well.”

Mr. Morris is best known for his biographies of two United States Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, who as president from 1901 to 1909 has made it into certifiable history, and Ronald Reagan, who was president during the "Bonfire of the Vanities" era, 1981–1989.

Maybe time will prove the historical value of the Tom Wolfe collection, but couldn’t the collection have been given to the library rather than sold to the library for $2.15 million?  Oughtn’t it have been given rather than sold and for such a pretty penny at that?  That’s the argument at least one critic offered in an article at the website “The Awl”:
So first, to be polite: thank you for making this happen. And now. So many questions: Why not take the tax donation? Why send out our troubled libraries to secure seven figures for what should be a gracious gift? Also: Just, why?

The New York Public Library's wonderful Stephen A. Schwarzman building is mid-step in possibly great and possibly terrible changes, including moving materials to off-site storage. They have just announced that they are delaying release of their latest design plan. The actual future use of the main library as a research facility is literally at question right now. Tacky timing, Tommy.
(See:  Rich People- Old Pig Demands $2.15 Million From Our Library For His Dusty Papers, by Choire Sicha, November 21st, 2013.)

In making its argument, the Awl article described Mr. Wolfe as “83 and also quite wealthy.”  Authors are frequently far from well-to-do.  Therefore, before I castigated an author for taking money that was available and on the table I thought I’d check and see what I could find out about Mr. Wolfe’s resources.  I don’t know Mr. Wolfe’s current net worth or what kind of money Mr. Wolfe might have at any time squandered.  I did find. however, that in January 2008 Mr. Wolf was signing a book proposal contract for $7 million.  (See: Inside Tom Wolfe's $7 Million Book Proposal, 1/8/2008.)  Not only did `Bonfire’ sell well; its rights were bought and it was made into a big budget 1990 film (although that film bombed at the box office).

Offering her commentary for the New York Times about the acquisition of the Tom Wolfe papers, Ginia Bellafante observed: “charity here is more closely tied to self-promotion than to the anonymous doing of good works.”  Ms. Bellafante might have been talking about Mr. Wolfe's self-promotion with these words; his transaction to put his papers in the library was certainly raising his profile in the news. But Ms. Bellafante was actually talking about how acquisition of the Tom Wolfe papers will be made possible with a “generous donation from NYPL Trustee Katharine Rayner” according to the NYPL’s press release.  You see, although Mr. Wolfe was not giving his papers, there was an actual gift of funds being funneled by the NYPL into this purchase.  Ms. Bellfonte was talking about Ms. Rayner's self-promotion (using Tom Wolfe), not Mr. Wolfe's.

Ms. Bellfonte pointed out that:
while the figure is hardly exorbitant in the realm of cultural philanthropy, which vastly outpaces social-service philanthropy, it represents more than twice the amount of the biggest gift ever made by an individual to the Food Bank for New York City. The all too obvious irony is that it is just this sort of fracture in the city’s psychology that might find trenchant expression in a piece of writing by Tom Wolfe.
Mr. Marx, promoting the Tom Wolfe papers acquisition story in an interview with the Times when NYPL’s press release came out, similarly observed the Wolfe penchant for writing about the wealthy and class divides while staying away from impolitic specific mention of such hot-button terms:
Tom Wolfe has been a citizen and analyst and critic of New York society in the midst of some of its greatest controversies,” . . . His work touches on so much of the sociology of the city. . 
Yep, one of Mr. Wolfe’s Vanity Fair stories in 2009 was titled “The Rich Have Feelings Too,” synopsised in the Wall Street Journal (August 27, 2009, The Horror of Flying Commercial After Private Jets): The rich don’t like the experience of being cut down to size when they have to fly commercial airlines like everybody else.

Aside from countering the bad press of the Edmund Morris announcement, why was the NYPL, governed by its wealthy trustees, so very eager to acquire the Tom Wolfe collection that they leaped to spend $2.15 million on it at this time?  Does acquisition of the caricaturing work tame it?  Make it seem somehow friendlier, more manageable?  Put it in is place?  Relegate Mr. Wolfe to a court jester role?  Does it signify that Mr. Wolfe has been invited safely into the club?

According to the Times, the Wolfe collection, already 190 boxes of material, will take up “about 100 linear feet” of the ever more limited shelf space the NYPL is fast reducing with its plans to sell off libraries and destroy the Central Reference Library stacks.  See: Wednesday, November 27, 2013, Are NYPL Trustees Flying Blind on The Basics? Numbers To Inform Them About The Drastic Dwindling of Books In Manhattan’s Principal Libraries Are Missing From Their Minutes, and Thursday, November 21, 2013, Drastically Reducing Manhattan’s Main Library Space (At City Expense), The NYPL Was Only Just Recently Increasing Its Space (At City Expense).

The NYPL’s conception is that as it makes shelf space for books in Manhattan ever more limited and precious it doesn’t need to maintain shelf space for its books and collections in Manhattan; that instead, it is sufficient to send its books and collections off to Princeton in southern New Jersey. 

Will Mr. Wolfe’s collection be shipped off to New Jersey too?

Mr. Wolfe seems to think he has cut a different deal with the library.  According to the Times, Mr. Wolfe values his collection enough to have that collection occupy top-price Manhattan real estate.  It is:   “Currently in storage in Mr. Wolfe’s apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.”

As for the future, Mr. Wolfe seems to envision that his collection will continue to occupy that kind of real estate even though this is exactly the sort of real estate that the NYPL is very busy finagling to sell as it plans the shrinkage of libraries:
“I feel like I’m not parting with it,” Mr. Wolfe said. “After all, it will be just down the street.”
Will it really?

If Mr. Wolfe feels up to writing a serious saga about class distinction and class conflict in today’s world he could write brutally, acerbicly, and with all the profligate exclamation points and capital letters he wants about how libraries, our institutions of Democracy, the `great equalizersaccording to Rolling Stone Keith Richards, are now being sold off in real estate deals calculated to benefit a privileged few, not the public.  That saga, well written, is one that ought to stand the test of time.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Seasonal Reflection: Assessing Aspirations Toward Alternate Realities- 'Tis A Tale of Two Alternate Cities?

Photobucket
’Tis the day to revisit our annual Noticing New York tradition: Checking in on the status of New York’s not-so-metaphorical `Ratnerville,’ which is to say to engage an annual stocktaking of the decisions we are making in the public sphere and whether we are veering off to a reality where a few of us revering money and accumulating “wealth” count for almost everything and the rest of us count for little.

The Noticing New York tradition of annual assessments of where we stand in this regard began in 2009: Thursday, December 24, 2009, A Christmas Eve Story of Alternative Realities: The Fight Not To Go To Pottersville (Or Ratnerville).  The next year I returned to the theme: Friday, December 24, 2010, Revisiting a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville.

When I first wrote, I spoke about how we use traditional Yuletide stories like the Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” about the reformation of the miser Scrooge or Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in a sense much the same story, framing the importance of free will and choice in terms of alternative possible realities, in order to contrast the bunching up of wealth and treasure with the spirit of shared community and giving.

The tradition of New Year’s stock taking is not isolated to Christmas.  An important part of Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year, and the Jewish holidays that come with the fall equinox, is the self-examination, repentance and asking for forgiveness that are the work of restoring right relationship with the world going forward.   The Jewish tradition associates the beginning of the New Year with the fall equinox, and other traditions associate the New Year with other times like the annual renewal of life that comes with spring.  Still, there is a special appeal for me in the contrasting extremes when the beginning of the New Year is associated with the winter solstice, the dark and deepening cold of the longest night of the year when the lights we offer each other for cheer seem to provide the greatest and most necessary comfort.

It is the longest night of the year, and it is also the turning point when the days begin to lengthen.

When I first wrote about “Ratnerville’ I was writing about how closely the accumulation of a huge swath of Brooklyn by Bruce Ratner and his Forest City Ratner company at the expense of the community at large paralleled in reality the foreboding alternative reality presented in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  That was an alternative reality that had been avoided by the good choices made by George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart).   In the film, the plot of which I detailed, George Bailey was a banker, a good community-oriented banker, and the alternative reality (shown to George via the heavenly intervention of an angel, Clarence Oddbody) was a world in which Henry F. Potter, a bad banker, has monopolistically accumulated the ownership of everything in the town of Bedord Falls, Potter's instinct being to keep others impoverished to ensure and continue building his own wealth.

George represents the good but unexalted, perhaps unrecognized choices essential to a shared and vital community of mutual support.  Potter represents the vortex of bad decisions which George resists, decisions, seemingly simple, involving the potential of personal benefit for George at the cost of what really matters, his human relationships and human spirit.  Twice, George faces the specter of surrendering his fate to Potter, an unholy melding that would sacrifice up the fate of the other residents of the small town of Bedford Falls.

Whereas in the embodiment of choices is split between two the two bankers in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1947), in “A Christmas Carol” (1843), preceding it by more than one hundred years, it is the character of Scrooge that, with his reformation, embodies both these polar opposites ending the story as an opposite example to his existence at the story’s outset.

While I have long believed myself to be quite an aficionado of the “Christmas Carol” story including who has played Scrooge and who has played it best,* it was only this season that it came to my attention, via Turner Classic Movies, that Lionel Barrymore, who plays the despicable Henry F. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was also famous for playing Scrooge on annual radio broadcasts and was scheduled to play the role in the very fine 1938 film version of “A Christmas Carol” that ultimately starred his close friend Reginald Owen, due to an intricate cascade of misfortunes.
(* Seymour Hicks played the role in the first sound version of the story, Scrooge, 1935, followed fast afterward by the 1938 version with Reginald Owen. Hicks had previously played Scrooge in one of the silent film versions.  I am a firm believer that the 1951 “A Christmas Carol” with Alistair Sim is hands-down the best version, although I am fond of George C. Scott’s 1984 color version and always a fan of Patrick Stewart’s work who took a turn in 1999.  It is funny how strangely satisfying Mr. Magoo, voice by Jim Backus, was in the role in 1962, sort of the way Michael Caine’s performance was fun when he did a version with The Muppets in 1992.  I think I am one of the few people who saw and remember a version where  Basil Rathbone, more famous as Sherlock Holmes, played the role in 1956 -1954?.  He played it again in 1958.  In 1956 he played Scrooge in one production and in another Jacob Marley’s ghost opposite Frederic March’s Scrooge.  With the proliferation is retellings Rathbone was also able to play Marley’s ghost twice.  In the story Jacob Marley is Scrooge’s deceased partner, essentially a version of Scrooge who doesn’t get to reform.)   
Basil Rathbone on left playing the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's deceased partner, essentially a version of Scrooge  who doesn't get to reform and on right in another production playing Scrooge who does eventually reform  
In "It's a Wonderful Life": on left Lionel Barrymore (who played Scrooge in annual radio broadcasts) playing the Scrooge-like Henry Potter and on right Jimmy Stewart playing George Bailey, the banker with friends who fends off succumbing to the Potter world
Alistair Sim, perhaps the very best ever to play Scrooge.  On left, Scrooge the epitome of a miser at the outset of the film.  On right, the reformed Scrooge now a model of kindness and generosity (above six images added 12/26/'13
The story of Scrooge is perhaps more powerful and daring (and hopeful) than the incarnation of these themes in the similar “It’s a Wonderful Life” tale because it envisions that the wealthy, misguided though they may be when they hoard, are themselves spiritually malnourished by their preoccupation with accumulating wealth.  The 2009 book, “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger", by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson makes the case that unequal societies deprive and impoverish not only the poor, but the wealthy as well, that “unequal societies are bad for everyone within them-the rich and middle class as well as the poor.”
Not depicted in every film version of "A Christmas Carol" are the swarms of ghosts like Marley revealed to be haunting the air high outside Scrooge's window consigned to float futilely and literally aloof, able to do nothing but realize how in life they separated themselves from the rest of mankind.  Above, clockwise from upper left, 1.) The Mr. Magoo cartoon version, 2.) Drawing for a Speaking Books version 3.) Another cartoon film version, 4.) The Alistair Sim version. 
Above, the ghost swarm revealed and visible from Scrooge's window upon Marley's defenestrating departure in the Patrick Stewart film version
A year ago, after a fall season of intense media hype, I was writing about how the piled up pirate treasure of the newly opened Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena represented an impoverishment of the neighborhood despite the way that people were crowing about “the spectacle of its glitter.”  See: Monday, December 24, 2012, While I Tell of Yuletide Treasure.  Two years ago I wrote about the accumulating takings of the public realm in that year: Saturday, December 24, 2011, Traditional Christmas Eve Revisit of a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville, the Real Life Incarnation of the Abhorred Pottersville.
The "Barclays" Center advertising oculus showing Barbra Streisand 
This year despite the costly subsidies for that arena ($700,000 for two Barbra Streisand Concerts?) people are talking about how that arena is not making financial projections and its owners may cut back on its glitter’s polish.  No matter, it’s too early to project the private profit.

This year the true measure of where, without correction, we could be headed in this society came in the form of plans revealed at the very beginning of the year to sell off our heavily used and relied upon New York City libraries in deals concocted to benefit developers, not the public.  I could hardly believe it.

Libraries?  Could there be any better example of giving and pooling of resources to be shared for the common good and for the pursuit of the highest human aspirations than libraries?  Therefore could there be anything more astoundingly miserly on the part of the well-to-do and well connected than to take those resources, generous gifts from the past, to sell them off and shrink the library system in deals where the eye is on private profit?    While many public assets were being put on the sales block by the departing Bloomberg administration and its friends, schools, parks, public housing playgrounds, hospitals, one must wonder:  If we can’t stop them at libraries where can we stop them?

In February, my wife Carolyn McIntyre and I co-founded Citizens Defending Libraries (with an associated petition) to at least stop the sell-off of the city’s libraries and the deliberate underfunding and shrinkage of the library system.  It’s been a hell of a year.  (Oh yes, though it’s not what it’s all about, Ratner’s in the picture too when it comes to libraries.)

Selling off libraries and diminishing the public commons is not good for anyone, the wealthy included.  Why are we doing it?  One reason is that costly subsidies were being directed at supporting the private profit of Ratner and Prokhorov’s arena while the libraries were being deliberately underfunded at unprecedentedly low level.  That underfunding by the Bloomberg administration commenced at approximately the same time the administration commenced moving forward with the library sell-offs.

Truth to tell, we are not just wrangling with problem human values these days, not just the human instinct for personal and individual gain.  Our values, and the values of the wealthy, today are mediated through a corporatist filter.  It has been suggested that if corporations were truly the individuals the U.S. Supreme Court has suggested they must be treated as, they would, by definition be considered psychopathic.  Corporations can only be motivated by the pursuit of profit.  Profit doesn’t and can’t measure the common good.

One of the things afoot his year that is terrifying is possible passage of the TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership, a proposed treaty that would in multiple ways make governments subservient to international corporations.  See:  Saturday, October 12, 2013, The Other Government Shutdown Now In The Works (One You Are Not Hearing About): A Corporate Replacement Of Government Via The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to Pete Dolack, author of the blog “Systemic Disorder,” speak about the TPP.  He suggested that with its system of secrete tribunals it would put corporations on a par with governments.  I suggested, and I think we agreed, that corporations would actually be at a higher level: The secret tribunals would only be empowered to decide cases between governments based upon the criteria of profit, not public good.*  In other words the playing field would be tilted to consider only what is important to corporations and not the public welfare it is the job and duty of government to deliver.**  There is much that is good in the world that never gets measured in terms of monetary exchanges or profit.  But wasn’t that what the Dickens “Christmas Carol” story was about too?  Likewise, "It's a Wonderful Life."
(*   The New York Times recently wrote confirmingly about how the TPP (not specifically referd to by that name in the article) and other treaties now affecting countries in Africa wipe out or substantially impede the ability of countries to regulate corporations to improve public health.  In the case of their articles the examples only involved tobacco, but the issues are much more broad based.  See: Tobacco Firms’ Strategy Limits Poorer Nations’ Smoking Laws, by Sabrina Tavernise, December 13, 2013.)
(** Corporate interests can get advantage over of the needs of government and public welfare through technicalities people might never imagine or understand.  This Christmas Eve morning I woke up to a story of the front page of the New York times business section telling me something I wouldn’t have suspected- was I not thinking?- despite having worked with bankruptcy attorneys and collecting many legal opinions addressing the potential of bankruptcy issues: As of relatively recently, there is “unusual provision in the federal bankruptcy code” giving “traders in swaps, options and other derivatives” a special status, “a so-called safe harbor.” Those fellows have been given, in contradistinction to other creditors, “a legal right to 100 cents on the dollar.”  Among other things, this means that, in the case of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the unusual right to 100% payment cannot be balanced against the “very strong public-interest considerations” in returning Detroit to a properly function status and health, this despite the fact that the article suggests that the $1.4 billion transaction that generated these rights was sort of a bankers’ swindle for Detroit that “smells’ when examined.  The article suggests that exactly contrary to its original intention of providing financial stability, the safe harbor Congress handed out may have led to the assumption of bigger risks, more derivative activity and bigger likelihood of financial meltdown.  Something to sort out and think about.  See: December 23, 2013, ‘Safe Harbor’ in Bankruptcy Is Upended in Detroit Case, by Mary Williams Walsh.)
And if you don’t remember that not everything that is good in the world can be measured in terms of money will you then become separated from your values and from the rest of society?

Days ago the architectural critic for the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, wrote a column of restrained alarm about the new super-tall towers that are being built in Manhattan to exult the wealth of the 1% and literally place them at a level above all other citizens, potentially at the expense* of everyone else.  See: Critic’s Notebook-  Seeing a Need for Oversight of New York’s Lordly Towers, by Michael Kimmelman, December 22, 2013.
(*  Among other things Kimmelman pointed out how five of these luxury towers are recently the subject of investigation because somebody inveigled Albany legislators to bypass city officials and specially exempt the buildings from property taxes.  This was a special deal even the Bloomberg administration wasn't accepting.  See:  See: Monday, October 14, 2013, Governor Andrew Cuomo Quashes Moreland Commission’s REBNY Subpoena and Other Follow-The-Money Subpoenas Hitting Too Close To Home and Friday, October 25, 2013, Update On Cuomo Corruption Investigation’s Nonissuance of Subpoenas- More Subpoenas Are going Out, Just Not To REBNY .)
Kimmelman also, in the footsteps of Ada Louise Huxtable and her last column for the Wall Street Journal (one year ago- December 3, 2012), has criticized the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan with its consolidating shrinkage, sell-off of libraries and destruction of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library stacks.
Slide promoting Skyscraper Museum Show- Left to right: 432 Park Avenue, One57, 111 West 57th, Four Seasons at 30 Park Place, 56 Leonard, Hudson Yards Tower D.
Kimmelman’s cautionary article about the new towers going up for the wealthy was likely promoted by the a new show about them at the Skyscraper Museum together with an unfortunately after-the-fact critical report, “The Accidental Skyline,”  from the Municipal Art Society.  These buildings are startling and it is hard to absorb or assess their impact on the rest of us even as we know that they will cast shadow on Central Park (worst at the winter solstice).  Kimmelman’s online article links to information about them.  The sales website for one of them, 432 Park Avenue is itself enough to astound in terms of how much it alone must have cost to build.  It affords 360 degree views of what can be seen from the various apartment heights under construction, including the very tallest.
Added Dec 25, 2013- Daily News extracting shadow diagrams from MAS "Accidental Skyline" report. 

Rendering of 432 Park Avenue
Expected view south from 432 Park Avenue
Looking down, what were once considered very tall buildings rimming Central Park, such as those on Central Park West now seem tiny.  It is like an airplane view.  I remember my three year old cousin in awe after his first airplane ride explaining his experience.  “They looked like ants,” he said.  Do we look like ants to the buyers of these apartments?  How will the buyers of these apartments experience us?
Rendering of 432 Park Avenue
Expected view north from 432 Park Avenue over Central Park- Click on this or any other image in this post to enlarge
Added Dec 25, 2013- Daily News extracting shadow diagrams from MAS "Accidental Skyline" report. 
Kimmelman writes about one of the buildings, the Nordstrom Tower, oddly configured for the sake of better views of Central Park to “cantilever over the Art Students League, a landmark building from the 1890s, in French Renaissance style, by Henry J. Hardenbergh.”   Says Kimmelman: “Picture a giant with one foot raised, poised to squash a poodle.”
Slide promoting Skyscraper Museum Show-"View of Central Park from One57"
At the same time that I looked at the scarily exciting views that will be seen from 432 Park Avenue I had to wonder.  I thought about Charles Montgomery's new book about the benefits of urban living:   “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.” Urban living, Montgomery says, makes people happier, but even as he suggests that urban density helps people to be happier, he says that, based on surveys, there is a Goldilocks zone were people are happiest.  People living in cities are happier than those living in suburbs, but those living in city towers are not as happy as those living in more low-rise environments.  See: Does City Living Make Us Happy? Leonard Lopate Show, Monday, November 04, 201.

Tall luxury buildings are coming to teeter over Brooklyn Heights too if Mayor de Blasio doesn't continue to fend off those who would sell and significantly shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library to build such towers.
Renderings released by the Brooklyn Public Library of two of the buildings that might be chosen to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library if it is sold and shrunk.  Neither is as tall as possible.
Might there be taller building looking more like this?  The subject was explored by Noticing New York.
Maybe those people living up so high in those apartments won’t actually be so happy (if they reside in them at all).  Might the vertiginous thrill of those views only present them with anxiety, reminding them of the precarious purchase they have on their advantageous over and separation from others in society?

I know how my past year has been spent:  I have been cheered to be working in the company of others fighting for our communities and preservation of the public realm, a realm that we can all benefit from by sharing.
As the shadows lengthen to maximum on a winter solstice evening might we imagine their darkness generating a Dickensian ghost swarm to fill the view?  (added 12/26/'13)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tall Stories- Buildings Proposed To Shrink The Brooklyn Heights Library: Brooklyn Public Library Publishes Seven Luxury Building Proposals To Shrink Away Brooklyn Heights Library

Tall new towers in Brooklyn Heights to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library?  The image of the two towers above are of buildings whose potential height speculatively ranges, Photoshopped to show their tallest announced possible version for which an image isn't available.  Maybe not what they will look like, but for other reasons they may be even taller- read on.  
The Brooklyn Heights Association and the Brooklyn Public Library were once upon a time suggesting that Noticing New York was being `alarmist' when in February a Noticing New York article suggested that the building that might go up to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library could be very tall, as much as 40 stories.  The article informed readers that my information was that a possible 40-story building was what the BPL was discussing internally (“I have been informed that, off the record, he [BPL spokesperson Josh Nachowitz] has told others in internal discussion the building could be forty stories plus parking below”).  (See: Sunday, February 3, 2013, What Could We Expect Forest City Ratner Would Do With Two Library Sites On Sale For The Sake Of Creating Real Estate Deals?)

Alarmist?  Really?  On Thursday evening (December 12th) the BPL finally released proposals (in a summary briefing form) that were all submitted to it back in September on the 20th.  One of the seven proposals, Proposal F, says that proposal’s particular building could be as tall as a 55-story height (and at least a 45-story height).  The rendering the BPL has put out to the public of that building is apparently just the 45-story height version of what the developer might build.

Heights of the Buildings in the Proposals- Currently

In fact, most of the proposals think in terms of building fairly tall buildings.  Proposal B projects building up to a 47-story height (370 to 470 feet).  Proposal C up to a 40-story building height (400 feet).   Proposal E up to a 35-story building height (359 feet). Proposal C up to a 31-story building height (319 feet).  Proposal G up to a 29-story building height (290 feet). Proposal A up to a 28-story building height (285 feet).

I am being careful in my wording here.  I am not saying these buildings would actually be that many stories, only that they would be the height of buildings that are many stories tall.  The general convention in real estate is to estimate one floor for every ten feet of building height.  When I asked during the presentation whether the BPL could be viewed as trustworthy after having tried to discredit as `alarmist’ my previous projection of a tall building being built on the site, citing a likely forty stories or perhaps an even taller building, BPL spokesperson Josh Nachowitz pointed out that building height is not guaranteed to translate into an exact number of stories and that sometimes, as with buildings that have taller ceilings, there may be fewer floors in such taller buildings.  He said that in order not to deceive the public about the actual heights the BPL had furnished only the heights of the buildings.  (In other words, the BPL was not telling the public how many stories these buildings would be.)

Not Ratner- And Not as Tall as Possible

Mr. Nachowtize said the BPL is also choosing at this time not to tell the public who the developers of the seven proposals are, or how much they have offered to pay for the site, this despite the fact that public present for the presentation of the proposals was urging that this information be disclosed.  The Wall Street Journal, however, reported that Forest City Ratner did not submit a proposal and the same information was given by “a library insider” to Brooklyn Eagle and was given by “a source” to the Daily News, by Nachowtiz to DNAinfo.  Nachowitz told the Brooklyn Paper that “a controversial company with the initials `F.C.’ was not involved.”  None of this `not Ratner’ information means that Forest City Ratner won’t benefit if the property is sold and developed.  See: Friday, September 20, 2013, Forest City Ratner As The Development Gatekeeper (And Profit taker) Getting The Benefit As Brooklyn Heights Public Library Is Sold.

Notably, according to the information furnished by the BPL at the presentation, none of the seven proposals currently released and depicted in the rendering even use all of the development rights that are available.  That means all of them could grow in the course of subsequent negotiations!

How the Tall Buildings Proposed Could Grow Taller

When I asked about the zoning calculation and what development rights were coming in from other neighboring parcels I was told that none of the proposals involved development rights coming in from Forest City Ratner.  When I pressed about whether other development rights were being transferred in and specifically mentioned the possibility of development rights being transferred in form the Saint Ann's School through an expansion of the larger merged zoning lot involving Forest City Ratner, Mr. Nachowitz acknowledged that one of the seven proposals contemplated “a relationship” with Saint Ann's to utilize those Saint Ann's development rights.  Mr. Nachowitz said that Forest City Ratner would not be involved in what it would take to bring in those development rights, but that does not seem possible since any conventional approach would dictate that the rights would necessarily pass through a merging with the zoning lot of which Forest City Ratner is part to effect the transaction.
The entire block, Ratner Property highlighted, showing what, with Ratner cooperation, could be treated as a single merged zoning lot to transfer development rights from Saint Ann's School to the library site
Above, Saint Ann School building with development rights that are not yet utilized.  Ratner property is in the background, literally (and metaphorically?)
Based on what Mr. Nachowitz said, Saint Ann's School is demonstrably willing to convey its extra development rights to the library parcel.   But only one of the seven proposals currently reflects such utilization of those rights?  That means that if any of the other six proposals is selected we can expect that ultimately it will result in a larger building when in the course of subsequent negotiations those Saint Ann's development rights are transferred in to be utilized.  Why would that happen?  The developer would point out that the larger development was as-of-right (a zoning matter not requiring a special approval), perhaps offer some nominal sweetener, and others would probably be arguing that the school should be allowed to profit by transferring the rights out.

In addition to the Saint Ann's development rights, in 1986 the city gave Forest City Ratner development rights from the library site (more than half the development rights unless possible zoning bonuses are considered) which is one reason the public has less to gain by selling this library.  In previous public meetings the BPL has confirmed that Forest City Ratner still holds some of these development rights unused.  This means that these rights too could be transferred back to the library site (Forest City Ratner presumably being paid for them).  This is likely to happen since, in terms of what needs to happen to make it so, it would be part of virtually the very same merged zoning lot transaction necessary to transfer in the rights from Saint Ann's School.

And that means?  As Mr. Nachowtiz said that none of the seven proposals currently reflect a transfer in of the Forest City Ratner development rights, it means that all seven of the proposals could grow to involve still larger buildings.

Depicting Taller Possible Buildings (But Not The Tallest Possible Buildings)

Released by the BPL- 37 Stories?
As is, it appears that the Brooklyn Public Library (or the developers), not wanting to be alarmist about the size of the as yet still smaller buildings currently proposed, have submitted renderings of the smaller possible versions of the buildings proposed.  As noted, Proposal B projects a building that could range from perhaps 370 feet (a 37-story height) to perhaps 470 feet (a 47-story height).  The rendering supplied (above) appears to depict a 370 foot, approximately 37-story tall, building, not the taller height now cited as possible.  What might an extra hundred feet, ten extra stories look like?   See the rendering below that was achieved with some Photoshopped adjustments.
Photoshopped.  47 stories?
The real estate blog Curbed and other sites got access to a rendering that BPL is not releasing to the public as part of its website release of proposal information.  Below, using that rendering, is what the taller building would look like in the wider landscape view you can see at the Curbed site: Possible Library-Replacing Towers Revealed For BK Heights, Friday, December 13, 2013, by Jessica Dailey- Comments possible.  (The Curbed site has the most renderings if you care to go there.)

Landscape version released by BPL
If the building reaches taller proposed height
Similarly, the tallest building of Proposal F, which may be anywhere from 455 feet to 551 feet tall, looks like it has been rendered at the lower 455 foot height.  Counting what are evidently the stories in the rendering this probably 455 foot building appears to be 35 stories tall.  In other words that would make Josh Nachowitz correct in this instance: An average height of 13 feet a floor would reflect a marketing decision to aim at the super-luxury condo market.  Such high ceilings would also help boost the building's higher-floor apartments up for harbor views.  If this released rendering was of the 551 foot version of the building we would be talking about an average floor height of 15.7 feet.  That’s unlikely the case.
Version released by the BPL
What would a taller version of the building look like if it had 96 more feet and another seven floors?  See below.
Taller version?
What would it look like if it remained a 35-floor building but had those even more luxurious tall 15.7 foot floors?  See below.  It’s the same thing, just a little more stretched up.
Taller by virtue of super-high ceiling heights
Will this super-luxury building be one of the buildings that people actually live in?  If it isn’t, if it instead turns out to be one of the buildings where the wealthy invest in rarely used residences, it will not serve to achieve the that oft aspired-to goal of transit-oriented development that people cite to justify taller buildings.

Do the Photoshopped versions of these renderings show what these buildings will actually look like if they wind up being the taller versions of their predicted selves?  It isn’t actually that easy to guess how the massing and bulk of these buildings will be rearranged if and when the taller predicted heights are achieved, but what it is important to note is that neither of these Photoshopped renderings, nor any of the other renderings currently up on BPL site show any of the buildings as tall as they might be if all of the unused development rights, those from the Saint Anne's School and those from Forest City Ratner, are transferred in to build taller. 

Donnell Redux- Shrinking Libraries

Of course, not everybody reacts negatively to tall buildings, even those teetering up to throw shadows on historic Brooklyn Heights, as bad things.  For many the much greater concern is the way that the libraries are shrinking as buildings such as these buildings grow.  The greater concern is how the provision of a library seems to be offered as a nominal and perfunctory effort at public pacification without earnest thought about a library’s real functions.
Proposal C's Donnell mimicking descending stair-step "flexible" space
During the presentation on Thursday night the audience in attendance gasped in instant recognition of how one of the proposed designs for the new Brooklyn Heights Library (Proposal C*) featuring a descending stair-step space mimicking the infamous design for the much castigated shrinkage of the Donnell Library.
(* In Curbed the image is identified as being from Proposal E, which unless the BPL's summary brief is wrong will require correction and screw up the comments on Curb's site.)
Library?- The stair-step "flexible" space design to 'replace' Donnell
The Donnell Library was an important flagship destination library across from MoMA on 53rd Street in Manhattan, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  The old Donnell was 97,000 square feet.  The proposed new Donnell design was created to deal with the problem of how to disguise the fact that the library’s disappointing replacement is far too small and largely underground, hardly large enough to hold any books,* while also addressing a few of the significant community functions the old Donnell once provided with its recently renovated auditorium, state of the art media center, and Teen Center.
(* The design looks like it was copied from a Japanese design the architects stumbled across when Googling up the phrase “bookless library”:  Friday, November 1, 2013, Inspiration For The Non-Library: The Genesis Of The Design For The Space That Won’t Be Able To Replace The Donnell Library.)
Bookless Japanese library as inspiration for Donnell? From A AS Architecture
The new Donnell will be shrunk down to only 28,000 square feet, less than a third of the library’s former size.  The Brooklyn Heights Library, like Donnell, has long been a flagship destination library, supremely accessible to all of Brooklyn and most New Yorkers in its Downtown Central Business District transit hub location, sitting over most of the city’s most important subway lines and a slew of bus routes spoking out to all of Brooklyn.  The Request For Proposals that the Brooklyn Public Library sent out specified for the Heights Library to be shrunk to just 20,000 square feet, a size even smaller (hardly two-thirds) than the size of the now unsatisfactorily small Donnell.  As with Donnell, the reconstruction of this Brooklyn library will involve shifting library space underground: The BPL specified that up to 5,000 feet of the new library can be put underground.

BPL’s Lack of Desire For a Larger Library

Although I oppose the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, especially given the current real estate deal-oriented mindset of the BPL and Bloomberg administration officials, I offered kudos to the developers who proposed a larger library, 31,192 square feet (Proposal A) and 30,000 square feet (Proposal E), than the BPL specified. . .  particularly since the City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and BPL in issuing the RFP had not offered extra credit for more library space or for putting more of the library space above ground.  Josh Nachowtiz countered that rather than not giving credit for doing more for the public in this regard the BPL’s position was more `nuanced.’

What EDC and the BPL furnished developers informing them about what it desired in terms of the proposals it was seeking indicated several objectives: The goal of maximizing the price rose to the top, appearing foremost among them.  It is, of course, difficult to meet the objective of offering a maximized price if additional space gets devoted to the library.

The RFP itself did not mention the possibility of giving extra credit for a larger library or for more above-ground library space.  In fact, it did not even mention the possibility of a larger library.  The selection criteria stated “maximizing sale proceeds” as a first objective (see below).  While it said that “adequacy” of addressing library requirements was part of the selection criteria it referred to an “Appendix A” description of those requirements that set forth a flat-out specification that a new library be 20,000 square feet and that at least 15,000 square feet of that be on the ground floor.
RFP "Selection Criteria"
Appendix A- Library specifications
Thrown in was EDC's somewhat vague boilerplate about “economic impact to the city” being one of the selection criteria.  It could be argued that this language could justify a provision of a larger library given the economic benefits of libraries, but it is a bit far-fetched to conclude that this is what EDC and BPL officials were thinking when that language was included.

I didn’t take a picture of the PowerPoint slide used at the July 17, 2013 developer information session I attended that would document what I recall about how maximization of price was emphasized, but here is what the developers in attendance were told orally about the project’s goals:
So I am just going to recapitulate what Josh [Nachowitz] sort of already mentioned.  I want to just stress that this is going to be a very competitive process and we had an earlier information session that was also full.  We want to just stress that we are looking for a few things that we really need addressed.:
        •    One is to maximize the sales price.  Those sales price will be used to build a new library and to be used in much needed capital repairs all over the Brooklyn’s portfolio, Brooklyn Library’s portfolio- So we need to maximize the sales price.*

[* Despite this rhetoric, there is no way to assure any actual such dollar-for-dollar linkage between the selling of libraries, their sales prices, and the funding of capital repairs in the library system.  We will return to this subject later.] 

        •    In addition we need to make sure that we have the new library delivered back to the city efficiently, expediently, and with quality building.  So if any successful proposal demonstrates that it is able to maximize profits to the city and deliver a new library quickly and have excellent quality, excellent design.

        •    We will obviously be looking at the development team qualifications as we always do in RFPs.  We're going to be looking to financial feasibility very carefully.  So please make sure you have a robust pro forma that’s in Excel format that we can look at.

        •    And also please be cognizant of the relationships with the surrounding community.  Whilst this is not in an Historic District, it is surrounded by an Historic District and we want the design to be aware of that, and cognizant of that.  And that goes for the design plan as well.
So, based on the above, after maximizing price, a relatively high priority is a design that won’t be jarring and upsetting for those living in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, but there is no priority for a larger library.

Below is the way that the BPL’s `nuanced’ position on extra space was stated in the Questions and Answers the BPL posted for developers on its web site.
    Q. Will there be additional credit toward the purchase price if additional library space is provided?

    A. The required square footage of the new library is specified in Appendix A of the RFP. Proposals that adhere to the requirements, as specified, are preferred, although proposals that contemplate additional library space are not precluded and a credit towards the purchase price in this instance may be considered. As stated in the RFP, one of BPL’s primary development goals is to maximize proceeds needed to generate capital funds for this and other BPL libraries. 
“Proposals that contemplate additional library space are not precluded and “a credit towards the purchase price in this instance may be considered,” but the “primary development goals is to maximize proceeds” as already stated (emphasis supplied).  What would be your takeaway as a developer?  Does sales price still trump no matter what?

The above Question and Answer might never have been furnished to developers had I not asked a question to raise the issue at the developer information session.  The above ‘nuanced’ statement of position is apparently a refinement of the following exchange at that meeting that began with my question:
    MDDW:  You are getting credit both for the purchase price and for what you are doing for the benefit of the libraries. .  So up to 5,000 feet can be underground.   Do you get additional credit for having less than 5,000 feet, . .  more feet overground, and do you get additional credit for having more than 20,000 square feet for the library, or does that work against you?

    Josh Nachowitz: So as we’ve said before for the number one, number two and number three development goals for the project is to build the best library that we can for BPL. We’ve set out that no more than 5,000 square feet of the proposed library space can be below grade, so, yes, if there is a proposal that put all 20,000 square feet above grade, or a proposal that put in a library larger than that . . [pause]

    Interjection, by EDC representative: We would weigh that up against the . .

    Nachowitz: . . Sales price.

    EDC representative: . . . Sales price.
Developers Never Reached Out To Confer With Community

So how much of a priority were the needs and desires library users as the developers formulated the plans for these tall new luxury towers?  At the presentation of the designs I asked Mr. Nachowitz whether the developers were at liberty to approach the community and library users to discover their needs and desires as they formulated these designs.  Mr. Nachowitz said that the developers were previously permitted to approach the community for such purpose before submitting their designs, but that going forward from this point they would not be allowed to do so.

If it’s true that all the seven developers who submitted proposals (and any other developers who may have been exploring the possibility of submitting a response) were permitted to approach the community for feedback, none of them did.

The BPL is taking comments from the public now, but not in a way that everyone will immediately see those comments on their web page when they are submitted.

To Replace Large Amounts of Library Space, “Flexible” Library Space Good For Many Thing Except Quiet Reading of Books

The Proposal E design that mimics the Donnell design is one of the five proposals presenting a library of only 20,000 square feet.  BPL officials present trumpeted their ability to make do with such a small amount of library space, explaining that this was because it is “flexible” space.  (For more musings on the concept of flexibility see: Thursday, April 25, 2013, Building a “Murphy Library”.)
To NYPL President Tony Marx, an “agora” and a “piazza” where the bleacher/stairs can be used to show people David Niven movies in the daylight while chamber music is played.
This is the same concept the NYPL has been touting as a excuse to rationalize why it is selling off and shrinking library space elsewhere in the city.  NYPL president Anthony Marx referred to the bleacher/stairs of the Donnell design as flexibly serving both an “agora” and a “piazza.” And at the same time it works functionally as stairs and is supposed to serve as seating to show movies while daylight streams in the window.  See: Friday, May 24, 2013, Previews Of The Proposed New Donnell Library: The NYPL Unveils Its Version Of The “Silk Purse” Libraries It Envisions For Our Future.

How long is the list of  ways that library officials claim such smaller spaces work well?  One thing such newly conceived of flexible space does not seem to do well is provide a quiet space in which to read books . . .

. .  At almost the same time that the BPL was unveiling these designs the NYPL’s  PR generated an article in the New York Times that dubiously celebrated the opening of one of these new-concept, `flexible’ libraries in Staten Island’s Mariners Harbor.  Here is an extract from the Times describing how the flexible space works:
Except for a conference room and staff offices, the 10,000-square-foot space is entirely open, with no partitions higher than the 3-foot-6-inch bookshelves that help demarcate the children’s, teen and adult areas.

If that sounds noisy to you, so be it. “We encourage noise,” said Elizabete Pata, the library manager. “I’m not the typical librarian, shushing people.”

“We’re not going to be a traditional library,” she said. “This is going to be more like a community center.”

  Tranquility may be found just out the back door, however.
(See: Building Blocks: An Oyster, Filled With Books, Is Set to Open on Staten Island- Mariners Harbor Library to Open on Monday, by David W. Dunlap, December 11, 2013.)

Arguably, the NYPL has succeeded in creating a flexible space accommodating multiple functions, just not a quiet place to read a book.  So much for the flagship destination well-equipped reading and research library the Brooklyn Heights Library has traditionally been!

Books as Conceptual Afterthoughts

-
New style (Donnell-inspired?) bookshelves- Concept being preeminent- Do you use a trampoline or climbing gear to get to the top shelf?  Proposal F
The fact that books tend to be just a conceptual afterthought is emphasized by this slide from Proposal F which, echoing the designs unrealistically offered for Donnell, shows unusable `conceptual’ bookshelves many times the height regulations would permit or that people without climbing and safety gear could access.
Similar overly tall books shelves in the Donnell design renderings showing that having books in a library is a conceptual thing
Unreceptive Public

The crowd the night of the presentation for the Brooklyn Library replacement plans was not exactly receptive.  The Brooklyn Eagle noted:
It was rough sledding Thursday night for Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) officials as they presented seven proposals to re-develop the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library.

Even before Josh Nachowitz, BPL’s VP of Government and Community Relations and Richard Reyes-Gavilan, BPL’s Chief Librarian ran through a Powerpoint with project renderings and details, opponents peppered them with catcalls and angry comments.

“These plans are covering up the slumlord aspect of what the Library did to this building,” audience member Marsha Rimler called out.

“Why won’t you reveal the developers’ names?” others shouted.

Opponents say the city is selling off public assets like libraries for the benefit of private developers, and that “the fix is in.”
(See: BPL unveils seven proposals for redeveloped Brooklyn Heights Library- Unruly crowd challenges library officials at Thursday presentation, by Mary Frost, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 13, 2013.  Comments Possible)

DNAinfo New York reported similarly:
Many residents have spoken out against selling the library to private developers, and they continued to voice their concerns Thursday.

"You speak of this as if it were already a done deal. We don’t want that at all," said resident Marilyn Berkon. "Why is it that we cannot simply refurbish what we already have? What this really is, is a business deal to make rich people richer."
(See: Brooklyn Heights Library Designs Revealed, by Janet Upadhye on December 13, 2013- Comments Possible)

The crowd attending that evening might be excused from having anticipated in advance that they weren’t going to like the plans which had the BPL had withheld* for nearly three months before unveiling. The mindset of those now selling New York City libraries isn’t trusted.  Ostensibly, the BPL and city officials have the interest of the library using public in mind, but the actual enthusiasm for these plans is coming mostly from people like the readers of the real estate blog Curbed nakedly disdaining libraries with comments like: “Why not tear down all the libraries. Most Americans don't read anymore.” and “What is a `library’?”.  
(* “Kept them secret,” in the words of the Brooklyn Paper. See: Library bookmarks Brooklyn Heights branch plans, by Jaime Lutz, The Brooklyn Paper, December 13, 2013.  Comments Possible)
BPL Insists Its Process Has Integrity- But Greatly Exaggerates Public Participation?

Most of the articles reporting on the proposal presentations included various protestations on the BPL’s behalf about the integrity and suitability of the process by which the proposals had been developed.  The Brooklyn Eagle included this:
“Any accusation that the process is rigged is completely and totally inaccurate,” Nachowitz said. He noted more than 40 hours of public meetings to date, and the process is still in the early stage. “If the fix was in we wouldn’t be here tonight.”
The “public meetings” to which Mr. Nachowtiz referred were probably the “Community Advisory Committee” meetings of which the meeting the evening of the presentations was technically the 7th.    The first of those meetings had been in February and from the very start, the committee meetings were suspiciously structured around the core support or condoning for the sale and shrinkage of the library from the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library and the Brooklyn Heights Association.  (See: Saturday, April 13, 2013, Condoning The Sale and Shrinkage Of The Brooklyn Heights Library, Does The Brooklyn Heights Associations Think Of Friends Group As A Fig Leaf? It Should Think Again.)

Altogether, the previous six of those meetings to which Mr. Nachowitz might have been referring totaled less than seven and one half hours.  How Mr. Nachowitz may have gotten from under seven and a half hours to his tally of “40 hours of public meetings to date” is uncertain.  He probably included the January meeting of the Friends group where the plan to sell the library was first unveiled and also included his presentation before Brooklyn Community Board 2.  There was a presentation to a local political club about the Brooklyn Heights Library and the Pacific Branch after which the club passed a resolution strongly opposing the sales.  Was Mr. Nachowitz also including the few public meetings that were held with respect to the proposed sale of the Pacific Branch?  Including BPL trustee meetings?  Even so, it seems impossible that he could get to a 40 hour tally even if he included the full day of state hearings on all the library sales held by Assemblyman Micah Kellner or included the shorter hearings on all the library sales held by the City Council committee overseeing libraries.

Trust For BPL Narrative?  Betting On An MOU?

One attendee at the meeting, neighborhood resident Quinn Raymond, credulously bought into and reiterated key aspects of the BPL’s script.  According to the Brooklyn Eagle:
Some members of the audience offered constructive criticism. Resident Quinn Raymond, who said his wife was a frequent user of the library, offered “general support with a lot of caveats.”

“We need a new library,” he said. “A tremendous amount of capital infrastructure needs repairs, but there’s no budget. This would fund library projects in other neighborhoods.”
According to DNAinfo
"What I like about this plan is that it gives us a better library — we do need a new library in fact," resident Quinn Raymond said. "And people in Bushwick and Canarsie and Fort Greene, they also need new libraries and the truth is there's no other revenue for that."
Even if such a very significantly smaller library could be considered a “better library” the narrative into which Mr. Quinn has bought has several flaws.  I told Mr. Quinn after the meeting that a generation of children were likely to grow up without benefit of a proper library as a result of this plan- even now they were deprived as the library was emptied of books as a precursor to the intended sales.  (One woman at the meeting described visiting the library to discover it had virtually no art books on its denuded shelves.)  More important, the numbers should not be believed when city and BPL officials say there is no budget for repairs and when they offer the estimates for those repairs.  Furthermore, there is absolutely no way to assure that proceeds of any library sales would be spent on such repairs as the library system shrank.
Empty shelves- Children's Library
As the Daily News reported:
. .  the project has riled neighborhood activists.

They contend that library officials are lying about how much it would cost to repair the dilapidated branch.

    * * *

“Brooklyn Public Library is using the pretext of a broken air-conditioning system and significantly inflating the estimated cost of its repair as a reason to sell a publicly owned library building for private development and private benefit,” said a press release issued by Citizens Defending Libraries,* a group opposed to the sale.

Library officials maintain they have been open and honest about the needed repairs and project, noting that they have held 45 hours of community meetings.

[* I am a cofounder of Citizens Defending Libraries and a proponent of its petition opposing the sale of New York City libraries]
(See: Brooklyn Public Library unveils seven proposals for Brooklyn Heights branch
In February, library officials announced plans to sell the city-owned branch at 280 Cadman Plaza West in Brooklyn Heights to a private developer who will erect an apartment tower with a new, 20,000 square foot branch on the bottom floor.  By Reuven Blau / New York Daily News
Thursday, December 12, 2013.)

Now (above) the BPL has escalated, citing “45 hours of community meetings” to prove that they have been “open and honest”?  But if the BPL can’t get the math right about the number of hours of public meetings there have been (or even whether it is 40 or 45 hours) why should we trust their math on the repairs?

The Brooklyn Eagle quoted me to address the other issue of whether sale proceeds would go to library repairs:
Michael White, author of the Noticing New York blog asserted that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with the city specifying that money raised by the sale would go to BPL (as opposed to the city’s general fund) “is not enforceable.”
Originally, when the public was first informed about the idea of using an MOU to specify that the City would return the proceeds it received from the sale of the library for library expenditures the idea was that it would be enforceable.  But at the May 23rd Community Advisory Committee meeting when the MOU was unveiled representatives of elected officials expressed dismay and consternation that the agreement made little pretense of being truly enforceable or otherwise being effective in ensuring that the BPL would actually garner proceeds from a library sale.  In response, BPL spokesman Josh Nachowitz dismissed the importance of the ineffectiveness of the MOU, saying that some MOUs get honored and some don't (they just ‘get thrown out’) and suggested that with an upcoming change of many elected officials throughout the city it didn’t make sense to want it to be enforceable.

Previously, Mr. Nachowitz had spoken of a plan to execute a contract with a developer before December 31, 2013, the last day of Mayor Bloomberg’s term.  It is under the Bloomberg administration that all the library sales for shrinkage, starting with Donnell in 2007 (with Bloomberg blessing), have been pursued.  As quoted in the Brooklyn Eagle Mr. Nachowitz offered that the  idea was now to wait for the new de Blasio administration to come in and get from it the equivalent of a moral promise to send the sales proceeds in the direction of the library:
“We’ll be having conversations with the new budget director,” Nachowitz said. “We’ll make sure the MOU is honored. If the MOU is not honored by the new administration, the board of the Library will not enter into the transaction.”

Nachowitz also said that a “reversion clause” would allow the city to “recapture” the real estate if the developer failed to build out according to the time line.
But the problem is not just whether the new administration exercises its legal right to ignore the MOU.  As I pointed out at the meeting, just because some funds are sent over identified as being from the proceeds of a sale that doesn’t mean that libraries will in the end get more overall funding because the city can still simply budget fewer funds.  It is, I said, just the same way that saying that funds from legalized gambling will go to schools (as often promised) doesn’t mean that education ultimately actually receives more money.  The agreements are more typically breached than honored.

Mr. Nachowitz’s idea of “reversion clause” as safeguarding protection if things aren’t working out?: What if that concept were extended to say that the library site property would revert to public ownership if the Brooklyn libraries were not actually receiving the influx of cash that supposedly justifies the sale?  No developer would sign such a deal because no developer would assume the risk that the library-using public is now being asked to assume.

The Delay (Until the de Blasio Administration?) In Signing A Developer

The BPL now says that it envisions executing a contract with a developer in “the first quarter of 2014”  (Brooklyn Eagle) “first three months of 2014" (Brooklyn Paper).  Does waiting to execute a contract facilitate pushing through the sale: Will there now be seven developers (plus Forest City Ratner) each ready to lobby the new Mayor de Blasio in expectation that they might benefit if the deal goes through?  Another question is this: Will the RFP be consummated with a signing under the de Blasio administration or go into the limbo of an interrupted process?  Because there are those who would want to argue that a signing after the January first date of the de Blasio administration commences would morally commit Mr. de Blasio to go forward in some way notwithstanding that on July 12, 2014 Mr. de Blasio stood with Citizens Defending Libraries and others on the steps of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library to oppose the city’s library sales, this one included.  That argument of incipient obligation would also have to be despite that fact that required public reviews of this sale, including ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) have not actually commenced.
Mayoral candidate de Blasio with Citizens Defending Libraries at 42nd Street library in July
On the Cusp of a New Administration Bloomberg Fails to Lock in Library Deals

Up until recently, the Bloomberg administration had the sale of New York City libraries on a faster tack.  As noted the developer contract for the Brooklyn Heights Library was supposed to be executed before the end of Bloomberg’s term.  It may be viewed as part and parcel of all the sell-offs and real estate deals pushed by the Bloomberg administration at the end of its term.  See the front page story of today’s New York Times:  Going Out With Building Boom, Mayor Pushes Billions in Projects, by Charles V. Bagli, December 15, 2013- Comments possible.   See also, The Brian Lehrer Show (Charles Bagli guest), Rushed Development Deals, Wednesday, November 27, 2013 (audio below),
and Atlantic Yards Report, Thursday, November 28, 2013, Wrongheaded on Brian Lehrer: guest suggests de Blasio might be courageous in supporting Atlantic Yards, host suggests mayor will "pressure" developer.



According to that Times article:
The Bloomberg administration has been pushing through more than $12 billion worth of real estate projects in its waning days. .  before Bill de Blasio takes over Jan. 1.

    * * *

The projects, which will begin construction well after Mayor-elect de Blasio takes office in January, also bind the new mayor to the old mayor’s agenda, at least for a while. By Dec. 31, some projects . .  will have reached the point that they cannot be stopped or modified.
The Times article described Bloomberg’s great success in this regard. . . and, in doing so, inaccurately, overstated it:
Only one so-called legacy project — the rezoning of 73 blocks surrounding Grand Central Terminal for taller towers — failed, when the Bloomberg administration could not win the Council’s support last month.
The above is in accurate because the Bloomberg administration also failed to lock in, the way it wanted to, the sales of New York City libraries.  Not only did the Bloomberg administration not succeed in signing the development agreement for the the Brooklyn Heights Library as planned, the NYPL’s Central Library Plan is halted and will not proceed unless Mayor de Blasio and other newly elected officials like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the new City Council decide to back funding for it.  Right now, there is no public or approved design for the Central Library Plan.  When there finally is an approved public plan, public officials will have to decide whether to approve and put into next year’s city budget the spending of $150 million in taxpayer money and the diversion of massive amount of other public money, (perhaps almost a half billion total when all is said and done) from other library purposes in order to sell off and drastically shrink libraries and exile a huge amount of books from Manhattan’s flagship destination libraries.

Below is a slide with information from Bloomberg’s website that noted that achieving the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan, was one of the very highest priorities of his administration.

Coverage of the Tall Towers of the Brooklyn Heights Library Sale Proposal and The Libraries Really Wanted By The Public

Curbed may have the best collection of visuals for the Brooklyn Heights Library sale proposals, but Brownstoner is the best site to see the charts of proposal features set up side-by-side, like how much retail space each project would have and perhaps to note that Proposal B, with an envisioned 15,500 square feet of retail, would have almost as much retail space as there would be library space.  See: Library Releases Proposals for New Brooklyn Heights Branch With Condos, Retail, by Rebecca, 12/13/13- Comments Possible.

At the end of this article are visuals for the rest of the proposals.  Just remember that if they acquire the still available development rights, none of the buildings that are shown here as big as they actually will be.
Looking in from outside the evening of the December 12, 2013 Community Advisory Committee meeting: The Business and Career portion of the Brooklyn Heights Library which would be eliminated as part fo accomplishing the proposed shrinkage
Why are our libraries shrinking if these buildings are all growing?  The readers of Curbed may have little idea of what a library is or know their value, suggesting that they all be `torn down’ because they think that  “Americans don't read anymore,” but that’s really far from the case.  Citizens Defending Libraries has plenty of links up on its site (last accessed December 16, 2013) about how usage of New York City’s libraries is way up (nearly 60% in terms of circulation and 40% programmatically), how “more people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined,” how people love libraries, and about the importance and desirability of physical books (including for young people) that allow us to better learn and absorb information than from digital books.

See:
•    Citizens Defending Libraries Resource And Main Page 
  
•    Extra Useful Links About Libraries In General
Additionally, Citizens Defending Libraries has a page with links focusing specifically on the sell-off of Brooklyn libraries:
•    Extra Useful Links About Libraries In Brooklyn (Including The Brooklyn Height Branch And Business and Career Library, The Pacific Branch And Strategic Plan)
That said, since we are dealing with images of towers in this post, perhaps this brand new image fro the Atlantic, a chart that shows the public’s approval of libraries towering over all else, reflecting the results of a new Pew Study about libraries:  Public Libraries Are Better Than Congress, Baseball, and Apple Pie, Say Americans- Public approval polls reveal the amazing truth! By Robinson Meyer December 13, 2013
Towering approval of libraries, not towers.
Here is a link directly to the new Pew Study: Released December 11, 2013, How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities, By Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie, Kristen Purcell and Maeve Duggan:
    Summary of Findings

    Americans strongly value the role of public libraries in their communities, both for providing access to materials and resources and for promoting literacy and improving the overall quality of life. Most Americans say they have only had positive experiences at public libraries, and value a range of library resources and services.
Proposal A:


285 feet tall
Rooftop park
Preservation in current location of library bas relief
Proposal B:
370 to 470 feet tall

Landscape version
Glass atrium?
Proposal C:

319 feet tall
319 feet tall

Proposal C's Donnell mimicking descending stair-step "flexible" space
Proposal D:

400 feet tall
Proposal E:
359 feet tall

Proposal F:

455 to 551 feet tall

-
New style (Donnell-inspired?) bookshelves- Concept being preeminent
Proposal G:
290 feet tall