Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dear Eliot, . . . other things kept undercover may bear investigation

(Eliot Spitzer taking oath of office as governor.)

This post deals with some things the Spitzer administration elected to shroud. Not so coincidentally, it gives us an opportunity to muse on the subject of investigations and how the new preoccupation with federal stimulus funding could make them particularly important.

This continues our series regarding letters about Atlantic Yards written to politicians and people of influence. Early in the series was a letter to then Governor Spitzer (see: Dear Eliot, . . . . . Please be a true reformer, Friday, August 22, 2008). As we said in that post, we received a response to the letter we sent to Spitzer when he was still governor and the letter we received is an interesting story in itself. Interesting enough to provide it to you here, together with our letter in response to that gubernatorial response.

Our Letter Series

Our original letter urged Governor Spitzer to be a true reformer. Spitzer ran for his short-held office on a platform of general reform and specifically on accountability and proper governance of public authorities, Our exchange of letters revealed that Mr. Spitzer turned out to be quite the opposite. That was before he abruptly left office when other ethical problems came to light.

Other letters in our series to date are Dear Mr. Bloomberg, . . . . . the Harm and the Foul (Tuesday, August 19, 2008) and the letter we arranged to be on his desk of Clark Hoyt the day he started his job as the Times Public Editor, Time to Times; Dear, Dear, Dear, (Wednesday, December 17, 2008).

Your Letters and Petition to Paterson

Now is certainly a good time to be writing letters to Governor David A. Paterson. As before, we invite others to borrow freely from ours in structuring their own letters. (In addition, here is quick link to a petition you can sign to tell the Governor that Atlantic Yards should not be allowed to sop up federal stimulus funds sorely needed for worthwhile use: Petition to Governor Paterson.)

We will talk more at the end of this post about federal stimulus funds and what President Obama said in his speech Tuesday night about their proper use.

Original Letter to Governor Spitzer

Our original letter to Mr, Spitzer was a careful, comprehensive list of the problems with the Atlantic Yards megadevelopment, including the errant governmental process (or lack thereof) that engendered it. The letter was written from my perspective as an attorney and urban planner experienced in development as a senior government official who spent a significant amount of time implementing ethics and public authority reforms.

Peter A. Drago’s Executive Chamber Response

The response we received from Peter A. Drago, Director of Governor Spitzer’s Executive Chamber was, on its face, respectful and encouraging.

We reprint it here in full:

* * *

May 31, 2007

Dear Mr. White:

Governor Spitzer has asked me to thank you for contacting us and for sharing your concerns about the Atlantic Yards Project.

Your correspondence has been forwarded to the appropriate members of our staff. I am sure it will be of interest to them. Please be assured that we will keep your comments in mind during any discussions we may have on this matter.

Once again, thank you for writing.


Peter A. Drago
* * *

(Click on the picture to see an enlarged image version of this letter.)

Mr. Drago’s letter notwithstanding, when we called Governor Spitzer’s Executive Chamber to follow up we discovered the reality was far from what was represented or promised. We found that a flood of correspondence opposing the megaproject was coming into the governor’s office. What was the governor’s office doing with those letters? Making sure they were buried and didn’t see the light of day even if they raised concerns that absolutely needed to be addressed elsewhere in other government offices; for instance, the Inspector General’s Office.

Letter in Response to Mr. Dragos’ Response: We Infer Mr Spitzer is NOT a Reformer

I will let my letter back to Mr. Drago speak for itself.

* * * *
October 18, 2007
Mr. Peter A. Drago
Director of Operations
Executive Chamber
State of New York
State Capitol
Albany, New York, 12224

Re: Executive Chamber Handling of Correspondence Seeking Reform and Proper Conduct and Governance of Public Authorities- Proposed Atlantic Yards Megadevelopment

Dear Mr. Drago:

I am writing to follow up on correspondence about Atlantic Yards: The letter my wife and I wrote to Governor Spitzer on May 29, 2007 and your letter in response sent to me on behalf of the Governor of May 31, 2007. I consider myself privileged to have received your response: I know the Governor receives significant volumes of correspondence on the State-sponsored proposed Atlantic Yards and I appreciate that the number of those letters that receive any response is negligible.

Yesterday when I called your office to inquire about the action taken with respect to our letter it was suggested in the conversation that a letter would be appropriate follow-up to get additional information.

Your letter to me informed me that our “correspondence has been forwarded to the appropriate members of our staff” and provided your assurance that our comments will be kept “in mind during any discussions we may have on this matter.” It stated you were “sure” our letter would be “of interest.”

Notwithstanding, with respect to the status and follow-up on our correspondence about the ongoing project, I understand:

1. Your file on our correspondence was closed out on September 26, 2007.
2. Throughout the time that the file on our letter was open our letter was kept internal within the Executive Chamber and never sent out to any external agency or authority. That means it was not shared with agencies where actions needing scrutiny are taking place: It was not shared with the Urban Development Corporation (a.k.a. the Empire State Development Corporation) or the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It was also not, for instance, sent on to an agency such as the State Inspector General’s Office.
I have long been keenly aware that the amount of correspondence that the Governor receives about his and the State’s sponsorship and facilitation of the proposed Atlantic Yards is extraordinarily voluminous. Therefore it is not at all surprising to confirm with your office that the Governor (as handled by your Executive Chamber operation) gets thousands upon thousands of letters about Atlantic Yards, in a continual unceasing stream, that they come from people wide and far, in Brooklyn and all states in the union, and that virtually none of these letters express support for the proposed project. I was not surprised to confirm that this substantial volume of letters is all negative about the project. I also appreciate the fact that the letters about this exceedingly unusual proposed megadevelopment stand out as a highly appreciable portion of the 90,000 or so communications your office deals with in an average week.

Yes, our letter was one of a scant minority of letters about this megadevelopment to have received any acknowledgment. I would like to think that our letter earned that distinction, and became a representative voice for the multitude of other letters the Governor has received criticizing this proposed megadevelopment because of the carefully considered analysis I offered and my qualifications as: a.) a real estate development and public finance lawyer, b.) an urban planner, and c.) a senior State government official with expertise and experience in proper public governance and public authority reform. (Much of my expertise in public governance and public authority reform was developed and refined implementing reform initiatives backed by candidate Spitzer.- Governor Spitzer was the fourth Governor whom I served.). The recognition was also perhaps because my wife and I were once early supporters of the Governor.

I request more information about how our letter was followed up upon. By whom was it reviewed? What was done? From a standpoint of my familiarity with government I do not see how our letter could have received appropriate consideration by keeping it simply within the Executive Chamber. I am forced to wonder what purpose or expedient has been served by the handling it has received.

I remind you, and by copy of this letter remind the Governor, that our letter urged project scrutiny, process scrutiny, and the Governor’s communication with the State employees sensitive to: i.) everything which is wrong with the proposed megadevelopment, and ii.) knowledge of how it desperately needs to and might be fixed. It detailed reasons for the Governor to give his urgent attention to public authority reform in this critical area. If the Governor is simply quarantining in the Executive Chamber all letters offering criticism or legitimate insight into the project’s obviously errant DNA, it seems impossible that any of this has occurred.

Candidate Spitzer ran on a platform of public authority reform: If these are the actions by which Mr. Spitzer defines himself as Governor, what are we to infer?


Michael D. D. White
CC: Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Brooklyn Heights Association

* * * *

New York State Office of the Inspector General

Clearly there are a number of places in government where it would have been valuable for correspondence such as mine to go, not necessarily limited to the State Inspector General’s Office. We want to focus for a minute, however, on the Inspector General’s Office because there are certainly many things respecting the no-bid Atlantic Yards project it would be their purview to look into, including, for instance, what explains the very peculiar Boymelgreen wrench shape of the project’s footprint. We quote here (in full) from the Inspector General’s mission statement on its website:

New York State’s residents are entitled to a government that is committed to the highest standards of integrity, efficiency, and accountability. We in the Office of the State Inspector General have been entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that State officials and employees meet these fundamentally important standards. It is a responsibility we take very seriously. Indeed, we are committed to promoting and enhancing an environment that instills public confidence in our government and are proud to work with and for the thousands of public employees and citizens alike who share that commitment. The Office of the State Inspector General operates under the authority of New York State Executive Law Article 4-A. Our mission is to detect, investigate, deter and eliminate corruption, fraud, criminal activity, conflicts of interest, abuses of office, and waste in the State entities under our jurisdiction. These include executive branch agencies, departments, divisions, offices, boards, commissions, public authorities and public benefit corporations -- any entity of State government headed by an appointee of the Governor that does not have its own statutory Inspector General. Our jurisdiction encompasses more than 150 entities employing the vast majority of New York State’s nearly 190,000 public servants, as well as private entities doing business with the State.

We have implemented two distinct but complementary strategies for accomplishing our mission: We vigorously and fairly investigate allegations of misconduct; we also conduct audits and systemic reviews of State agency programs and procedures, recommending improvements for positive and permanent reform of agency operations.

We perform these functions with a professional staff of trained investigators, experienced attorneys and skilled forensic analysts who possess a broad range of expertise and a commitment to combating corruption and promoting greater efficiency in State government.

Our efforts could not succeed without the assistance of the overwhelming majority of public employees who do their jobs honestly and effectively. If you are a State employee who is aware of misconduct by a State official or employee or by any individual conducting business with the State, you are required to report your information to us promptly and may do so by calling our Hot Line, contacting us by Mail or using our On-Line Complaint Form. Those who suspect or are aware of misconduct by a State official or employee, but who are not public employees themselves, should similarly report such information to us. Keep in mind that any State employee who acts in good faith to report such misconduct may not be subject to dismissal, discipline or other adverse personnel action.

Again, welcome to our site. We appreciate your interest in our Office. Please send any questions or comments about our site to:
There may be those who feel they have good reason to believe that the Inspector General’s Office will hold back from investigating the Governor’s Office in a situation such as Atlantic Yards. That might normally leave a void. But here is where something struck us as interesting when we listened to President Obama’s speech on Tuesday. . .

Federal Recovery Plan Inspector General

President Obama, talking about the federal recovery plan spending, announced his appointment of a federal inspector general to hold “mayors and governors across the country” accountable for the federal recovery money they spend (emphasis supplied)

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we've all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort - because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.
That means that if Atlantic Yards were ever to receive federal stimulus funds a federal inspector could mount an investigation.

It is interesting when just one office like a State inspector General’s Office has jurisdiction to look into improprieties. They may ignore them or choose to be lethargically inactive. What may raise interest sufficient to get an investigation rolling under one state administration may differ from another administration, and vice versa. We have noticed, however, that the dynamic often changes significantly when at least two such offices share jurisdiction over a matter: Casual disregard of a matter’s significance recedes as an option and competition can take hold. We certainly don’t ever want to see Atlantic Yards put on a list of projects to potentially receive federal stimulus money. But if that were ever to happen, a shift in the dynamic of who wants to investigate what and when and with how much vigor could cause things to become very interesting.

(President Obama delivering his inaugural address.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #13: Project Participates in City Fluidity? NO

This is evaluation item #13 (of 47) of the Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card

Project Participates in City Fluidity? NO

Jane Jacobs suggests that cities must provide fluidity which means that different sections of the city should work together in multiplying options and choice for the city’s dwellers in general. There is no evidence that Atlantic Yards (or Metrotech) is creating any new options for living or working that people will utilize. The advertising for Atlantic yards advertises much that is unique that Brooklyn offers the city at the same time it will be destructive of these characteristics.

JJ Cites: [(A) city must have the very fluidity and mobility . .A city’s collection of opportunities of all kinds, and the fluidity with which these opportunities and choices can be used, is an asset- - not a detriment- - for encouraging city-neighborhood stability. However, this asset must be capitalized upon. It is thrown away where districts are handicapped by sameness and suitable only to a narrow range of incomes, tastes and family circumstances. P. 139, 140]

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #12: Avoidance of Projects Being Apart from Weave of City Fabric? NO

This is evaluation item #12 (of 47) of the Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card

Avoidance of Projects Being Apart from Weave of City Fabric? NO

(Picture from Ratner report)

Jane Jacobs objects to projects being constructed in a self-isolating way, apart from the weave of the city fabric, which is the way that Atlantic Yards is proposed to be built and the way that Ratner’s Metrotech was built.

JJ Cites: [One of the very unsuitable ideas behind projects is the very notion that they are projects, abstracted out of the ordinary city and set apart. . . The aim should be to get that project, that patch of the city, rewoven back into the fabric. . .P. 392 they must tie in with streets beyond project borders, because the prime object is to knit this site with what lies around it. P.395]

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #11: Project Will Be Developed Gradually Working with City Fabric? NO

This is evaluation item #11 (of 47) of the Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card

Project Will Be Developed Gradually Working with City Fabric? NO

(Picture: Rendering by the Municipal Art Society showing the teardown of the neighborhood the project plan involves -Original Aerial Photograph by Jonathan Barkey.)

Jane Jacobs calls for cities to be constructed gradually so as not to lose the existing intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that has built up slowly and organically and does not replace itself easily. Atlantic Yards, which is planned to be under construction continuously until finished will be the opposite of a gradual event, partly because of its concentrated scale and partly because, rather than integrate with existing fabric, it goes out of its way to tear down existing fabric and replace it in one sudden “swoop.” The minor fractional portion of Atlantic Yards that is being built over the rail yards must be built new and will not have within it very much existing city fabric. Still to integrate the new construction gradually, in a way that would allow it to relate better and in balance with the existing fabric Jacobs would suggest building this portion at a smaller scale and then integrating more building that would occur outside this area organically and gradually over time.

JJ Cites: [ . . . these increments or displacements have to be gradual. If self-government in the place is to work, underlying any float of population must be a continuity of people who have forged neighborhood networks, These networks are a city’s irreplaceable social capital. Whenever the capital is lost, from whatever cause, the income from it disappears, never to return until and unless new capital is slowly chancily accumulated. P. 138 Many a once vital district, having lost in the past a mixture if primary uses which brought immediate attraction, popularity and high economic value, has declined sadly. P. 168 Given enough federal funds and enough power, planners can easily destroy city primary mixtures faster than these can grow in unplanned districts, so that there is a net loss of basic primary mixture. Indeed, this is happening today. P. 177 The very process of increasing density gradually but continually can result in increasing variety too. And thus can permit high ultimate densities without standardization. P.216 No matter how old the buildings in a locality, no matter how great the necessity for eventual replacement of all or nearly all, this process should not occur in one swoop. P.334]

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #10: Building Creates Close-grained Weave of City Fabric? NO

This is evaluation item #10 (of 47) of the Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card

Building Creates Close-grained Weave of City Fabric? NO

(Click on any picture in this post to see it enlarged. This one a close up section of a photo in the current Municipal Art Society annual report.)

Jane Jacobs calls for cities to be constructed with intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support both economically and socially. Atlantic Yards, and the Ratner Metrotech and the Atlantic Centers do not incorporate such close grained and intricate features.

JJ Cites: [ The need of cities for a most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support both economically and socially. P. 14 Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow. P.72 . . . . fifty-seven acres of mostly grass, dotted with playgrounds and devoid of city street, a prime breeding ground of delinquency in that city. P.77 Furthermore, a city matrix needs its own less spectacular internal minglings (“jumbles to the simple-minded). P. 174 Only intricacy and vitality of use give, to the parts of the city, appropriate structure and shape. P.377]

(Municipal Art Society rendering showing scale using photgraph of neighborhood- Original Aerial Photograph by Jonathan Barkey.)

Adding Something Off Topic: A Few Notes

We are going to go off topic for a bit. But if we are clever enough about what we weave in, you might not even notice our departure from our usual themes. What better way to go off topic, however, than to get a chance to talk about music, something we love.

When Noticing New York is On Topic

As regular readers know, Noticing New York is an independent entity dedicated to the proposition that developing New York and appreciating New York go hand in hand. We watch New York City development, looking to call attention to what is good and what is not so good. We have an eye out for, and tend to side with, the interests of local communities in building or protecting good design in the public realm. These days we are often discouraged by what big developers with the support of City Hall try to get away with at the expense of our communities. (See: Monday, February 23, 2009, Un-funny Valentines Arriving Late: Your Community Interests at Heart.)


This post is something in the nature of an advertisement for some good music. But you have to keep reading. You may have noticed that our Noticing New York site doesn’t have advertising. It is something we will probably get around to including but we have resisted it thus far, and there are reasons. One is that we don’t want advertising to create conflicts of interest. We always want to be able to speak freely and without the perception that something extraneous will be influencing us. (One reason we are not a not-for-profit is because we want to speak freely and that sometimes means being directly critical in a political way about the roles of NYC politicians roles in city development.)

When we do start to include advertising links, it will be for things we believe in. For instance, there are some good documentaries you might want to purchase about topics we believe in. One of them is Isabel Hill’s careful and thoughtfully produced “Brooklyn Matters” about the extraordinarily errant Atlantic Yards megadevelopment proposed for Brooklyn. Another is “City of Water,” a superb film produced by the Municipal Art Society about planning for the best possible uses of our city waterfront. That film is regularly shown in public venues and will be available for DVD purchase in April.

You may notice that we envision NNY advertising would not only be for what we believe in, but would also be related to the topics that concern our site. You might eventually find that there are certain carefully chosen purchases we link to with a New York theme. For instance, we recommend the neckties of Josh Bach. Some of them are New York-themed and when we go to a public hearing to protest rampant eminent domain abuse we like to wear their Constitution necktie. (Josh Bach also has a great Declaration of Independence necktie an Emancipation Proclamation necktie.)


Would we advertise music, which we love, but which is not necessarily related directly to our major themes? We don’t want Noticing New York to be cluttered with advertising. We don’t want too many distractions. Our site should always load quickly and you should be able to find what you are looking for fast. Bur maybe because we love music . . . (We love Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, often heard on Prairie Home Companion. Vince now has regular affordable performances at the Edison Hotel.- We also love the Pizzarellis, particularly John Pizzarelli’s wife, Jessica Molaskey.)

A Special Locally Generated Concert Series: First Acoustics, a Live Concert Series

Here is what we specifically wanted to “advertise” by going off topic in this post. What we are going to tell you about is special because it is locally generated and has, not just marvelous music, but a rare personal and friendly feel. It is the new First Acoustics, a live concert series at the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn.

We have been to two of the performance evenings so far and each was memorable. There are three more evenings coming up, each of which we plan to attend. The series began with a double performance evening: Livingston Taylor and Cat Martino as the opening act.

(Picture: Coco Wilde and Livingston Taylor)

Lots of people know Livingston as the brother of James Taylor. Livingston is such a preeminent performing and songwriting talent in his own right we have never been able to discern why James is so much better known. Similar in many ways, we prefer to catch brother Livingston as the less often heard. We also loved his quiet, quirky sense of humor. (He teaches stage performance at the Berklee School of music in Boston where our nephew is a student.)

The evening introduced us to fellow Brooklynite Cat Martino, something for which we are very thankful. Ms. Martino has a rich, luxurious, meanderingly flowing voice and does something magical and technically astounding where she accompanies her own voice with repeating loops of sound. She adds successive overlaps contributing rhythm, harmony and counterpoint for a complex tapestry of sound, all of which she herself has generated with voice alone.

We’re sorry we missed the next three evenings where the performers were Bethany & Rufus, Olympia’s Daughters and Christine Lavin.

The Valentine’s Day evening concert presented two Brooklyn neighbors of Coco Wilde, who is producing the series: singer Wendy Russell and jazz cabaret from bassist Bob Cunningham. Wendy, whose speciality is slow, silky renditions from the American Songbook, was great doing a humorously rousing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and an absurdly sultry “Rubber Duckie” the song you know best sung by Ernie of Sesame Street. Bob Cunningham begins many of his pieces with stories relating them to the many jazz greats with whom he has played in the process of building his long, distinguished career: Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Benny Carter, Sun Ra. .. the list goes on. The evening concluded fittingly when Wendy joined Bob for a rendition of “My Funny Valentine.”

(Picture: Wendy Russell, Coco, Bob Cunningham)

We also must say something about Coco Wilde, the producer of these evenings. She is a natural, relaxed host and her joy for what she is doing (and for her husband Bruce, who is helping her) is transporting.

Here are the scheduled performances coming up (also available at the website where there is ticket information).

March 7th, 2009: Holly Near
March 28th, 2009: Priscilla Herdman
May 9th, 2009: Leon Redbone

As for Leon Redbone, we do love his Christmas album, “Christmas Island,” a gift from one of our illustrious musician family members.

Really So Off Topic?

Is this post really so off topic? Perhaps not. A lot of what we write about concerns the importance of working from the community level up to generate an authentic urban experience. How to do that well in a performance sense (including music and theater) is exactly the kind of challenge that faces us, for instance, in terms of acting from the community level up to rescue Coney Island from the destruction which the city seems to be systematically bringing to it.

How do we incubate and build the warp and woof of our local culture?

We suggest that we all should be on he lookout for the opportunity to enjoy performances such as those that are being put together at First Acoustics. They are relatively economical and we have been able to buy signed CDs while chatting with the performers. (It sure beats going to some of the questionable “free” events sponsored by the Brooklyn Borough President and funded from the “charitable”/political contributions he takes from real estate developers he should be keeping at arm’s length.- There! Did we get back on topic?- See our very on topic: “Charity?” We Begin to Groan, Monday, October 20, 2008)

Even better yet, in terms of a good locally incubated performance bargain, First Acoustics is planning a summer Thursday performance series which will be even more economical and will focus on “up and coming” performers.

Enjoy! For tickets go to the website or contact:

BOX OFFICE: (718) 288 5994
For more information:
EMAIL: info (at)

Proceeds Benefit the First Unitarian Congregational Society, Brooklyn.

On topic again, the venerable Augustus Graham was important to founding the First Unitarian congregation and was devoted during his life to doing good in Brooklyn. We once wrote about how the Brooklyn Museum’s Augustus Graham Award should never have been given to a certain real estate developer.

(Click to enlarge any images in this post.)

Monday, February 23, 2009


Remember grade school when you sent multiple valentines around the class? Well this month was Valentine’s Day and we were imagining, if we could peek into other people’s mail, what kind of valentines we might discover that various of our New York City communities might be sending to other of our various New York City communities in recognition of the affinity they have that comes from having certain things in common.

With whom do we envision communities might share their hearts? We envision that they might share them with other communities that have the same interests at heart.

Here are our thoughts, with respect to the communities in the different boroughs of our city.

1. South Bronx and Yankee Stadium. Up in the South Bronx the community is sitting with unreplaced parkland. Their parkland was taken to build, at substantial taxpayer expense, Yankee Stadium. Mayor Bloomberg focused on a not-so-sweet suite deal that would not benefit the public. It seems to us that the community might want to send out empathic valentines to other communities whose community board members where replaced by borough president action because community board members trying to protect their community voted against a destructive project. They might want to send out valentines to other communities beleaguered by stadium and arena finance scams that disregard the interests of the community.

* * *

2. Willets Point & the New Mets Stadium. The Willets Point community might find itself sending a valentine back to the South Bronx community. The Willets Point community, next to the new nontaxpaying Citi Stadium which just replaced Shea Stadium, is now under threat of having eminent domain used to eliminate is bustling taxpaying businesses in a questionable move to give a huge 75 acre development monopoly to a single developer. The community might want to send valentines to other communities faced with the abuse of eminent domain as swaths of acreage are turned over to single developers with whom government is collaborating to give special benefits. Valentines might go to communities such as Prospect Heights and Fort Greene where Atlantic Yards is proposed, and to West Harlem (Manhattanville) which Columbia wants to own all of for an expansion. Those communities are likely to have holes in their hearts for 20 or 30 years as a result.

* * *

3. Destruction of Historic Coney Island. Coney Island is where the community is experiencing the systematic dismantling of its famed amusement area by a developer. Is the developer acting in collaboration with the city government to create this hole in the community that will likely persist for decades? The city is doing nothing to stop it and is pursuing a zoning change that will reward the developer with higher land prices for having removed the amusement park uses and not complied with the city zoning that requires them. Whether working in conscious coordination with the developer or not, the city probably catalyzed the developer’s destruction when it advertised its receptively to destruction of the Coney Island amusement area. The Coney community might want to send a valentine to other communities with developer-created holes-in-their-hearts induced by developer-sympathetic mismanagement by the city. The holes-in-the-heart of Coney will, of course, be a loss for that community and its unique heritage, but Coney is an area of recreation that should belong to all the city. Its draw should be wide.

* * *

4. Development in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Perhaps the Coney community would like to send a valentine to Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Cobble Hill and Red Hook communities where a predilection for prioritizing commercial development is being given odd weight as Brooklyn Bridge Park, which should be one of the city’s most important new waterfront parks, is planned and designed. Some strange and fretful politics have been created by the illogical precept that a park of citywide importance should “pay for itself.” Even if one can question what the city can currently afford and whether all of the waterfront area now available for new use should become park, the precept that a city park should “pay for itself” has created confusion and uncertainly about design and management that compound exponentially with the vagaries of an erratic real estate market now on a downward trajectory. As a consequence, there are valid concerns about the unpredictable answers as to just what development may happen. There are equally valid accompanying concerns that the mystery development that finally materializes will be driven by factors other than what normally makes for good urban design and zoning. Then there is a danger that density, driven by the goal of hitting a high profit target, will become too dense. The situation also presents the significant concern that the “park” will be designed and operated as a “backyard” to the residental and hotel development. It needn’t be that way, but the false equation of the precept that “parks must pay for themselves” drives the tension in exactly that direction.

* * *

5. Pier 40 on Manhattan’s West Side. Maybe those Brooklyn neighborhoods we just described should be sending some of their valentines to the Manhattan riverside community at West Houston Street. They are struggling with the idea that Pier 40 needs to be self-supporting. More than six years have gone by trying to find proposals that work in this respect. The community board recommended that the Hudson River Park Trust board vote down the proposals that were presented to deal with the deteriorating pier. Instead of wanting something developmentally very elaborate (such as Related Development’s proposal which included putting Cirque du Soleil on the pier) the community wanted something simple and more in line with what it currently has, including soccer fields and other recreational uses. Economic viability being a problem, the trust is now reviewing its plans and suggesting changes to state legislation to make it easier to build something at Pier 40.

* * *

6. DUMBO and the Proposed Dock Street Project. Concerned as they are about how the decisions they have been presented with have been bundled together, Manhattan’s West Side Pier 40 community will probably want to send one of their valentines to the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn. Unable for years to get the School Construction Authority to consider building the school they wanted, the community was suddenly presented with a bundled decision opportunity to approve, at greater height, a building it already rejected as too tall in order be granted a school within the building. It must now be skeptically asked what good is a residential building that can only be “sold” by tacking on a school and whether a school shoe-horned into a project is likely to be the equal of a school designed with the community’s needs foremost in mind rather than to coerce it to approve an extra large project it previously rejected.

* * *

7. Gehry/Ratner Beekman Tower Blackmail. These kinds of Faustian bargain bundles can also lead to awkward after-the-fact choices. Right across the river on the other side fo the Brooklyn Bridge from the Dock Street project is the Beekman project, another towering project into which a school was inserted as a sales gimmick. The project is designed by Frank Gehry and looks like what you would get if you sculpted a gothic tower out of wax and then made a quick pass with blowtorch. With this project we saw how the tactic of bundling backfired and how the public was hurt when, with construction underway, the developer, Forest City Ratner, blackmailed the public and the community board, telling them they were holding construction of the school hostage for the demanded receipt of extra subsidy.

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8. In Red Hook Brooklyn, IKEA, a Park and a Dry Dock. Having a bad development deal forced down its throat might cause the DUMBO community to send a valentine to the Red Hook Community. Lest anyone think that the “bundling” of development decisions is about good economics, keeping the city solvent or making sure that tax revenues flow, one can consider the situation in Red Hook. Red Hook got a new IKEA store and an expensive new Michael Van Valkenburgh park. But in order to get these things the community and the city lost a graving dock (dry dock), which the city and its economy sorely need, to create an outdoor parking lot for the IKEA. This resulted in the elimination of high-paying jobs while replacing them with a similar number of much lower-paying jobs. The real tragedy is that, if the IKEA (with its parking lot) was wanted, it was not necessary to sacrifice the graving dock in order to have it. We could have had both IKEA and the graving dock. The city is now looking at spending a billion dollars to replace the sacrificed dry dock. Why was an existing, necessary and productive billion dollar asset sacrificed? We attribute it the city’s reflexive accommodation of big real estate projects and the administration’s failure to value what we have. This was also a failure to value what the community values.

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9. The Proposed Atlantic Yards Megadevelopment in Brooklyn: Poster Child For Everything Developmentally Bad. Speaking of destroying what the community values and what is economically of superior value, the Fort Greene and Prospect Heights communities, near the proposed Atlantic Yards, should get a valentine from Red Hook. The developer-driven Atlantic Yards involves tearing down worthwhile existing buildings. Some of those buildings, like the Ward Bakery are historic and surpassingly valuable as candidates for adaptive reuse. Others were very recently produced within the last few years by a vigorous and governmentally unaided development economy that the project seeks to quash and replace. The communities near Atlantic Yards will be getting empathy valentines from, and sending them to, almost all the other communities in New York beset by bad development. Atlantic Yards is the one project that is so supremely bad that it is the poster child for virtually every kind of city and state development incompetence and collusive oversubsidization of big developers. Atlantic Yards is an example of what you get when you turn over to a developer all the “public” decision-making functions, telling them they can write themselves a sky-is-the limit blank check. Every decision box with respect to this megadevelopment has been checked in the developer’s favor and none in the public’s. Designed as a maximum subsidy-sponge with a maximum churn, the project is mainly a redistribution of assets in the developer’s favor rather that the creation of wealth or value. The overscale project involves eminent domain abuse in the extreme. The megaproject is bad design, overly dense and seizes streets and avenues to augment an already indefensible 30+ acre governmentally assisted developer monopoly. Though the developer had a free hand filling in his blank check, ESDC, the lead New York government agency effecting this project, admitted aloud in court Monday that they approved this megaproject without ever weighing the extraordinary magnitude of benefit the developer was bestowing upon himself against the definite harm and, at best, only incidental benefit befalling the public.

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10. Eminent Domain Squeezing in Previously Unimagined Density into Central Business Neighborhoods. The Bryant Park neighborhood in Manhattan likely would get a valentine from the proposed Atlantic Yards neighbors. The neighborhood will be experiencing more density than once imagined for it, courtesy of the use of eminent domain to unexpectedly squeeze that density in. Will this previously dense area become more so to an uncomfortable degree? Similarly, more density is coming to Downtown Brooklyn where eminent domain is also planned so that developers who want to build big buildings with bulky floorplates will be able to do so. Like the plan for Atlantic Yards, the density is planned to come with a loss of some of the streets that would help make the extra density more bearable. The streets would not be kept as valuable or reminders of the past the way the streets in the Wall Street area were landmarked and preserved. We could go on. Little of Harlem’s 125th Street might remain after the use of eminent domain in conjunction with zoning that will substantially increase density.

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11. On Manhattan’s East Side, A Dense New Solow Project. Valentines concerning oppressive density will be going back and forth between many neighborhoods. One of the senders and recipients will be Manhattan’s East Side. Seven generic-looking straight-up glass towers are proposed to be built along the waterfront south of the United Nations. The density the City Planning Commission allowed with an approved rezoning is probably greater because, even though streets will be reinserted into the grid, those streets were once demapped when a Con Edison generating plant was on the site. That streets once happened to be privately owned is not a legitimate reason to have approved greater than normal density. The 9.8 acres of land is the largest privately purchased and owned tract being developed in Manhattan (compare that to the 30+ acre government-sponsored no-bid monopoly being awarded Ratner in Brooklyn). In theory, the immense size of the Solow development was negotiated down from a possibly more immense size by public officials, but the tallest proposed tower at 595 feet, is about 60 stories and 90 feet taller than the United Nations building. The unexcitingly designed neighborhood of new towers is supposed to house about 3,000 apartments and 1.06 million square feet of commercial space, as well as 69,000 square feet of retail. There is good news in that the Municipal Art Society led negotiations to obtain developer cooperation that will continue East Side waterfront access by building a waterfront park and promenade. As the park is such an obvious benefit (almost a “need”) for the neighborhood and its creation will involve public expenditures, why was it so hard to negotiate this? Didn’t the developer understand it was to his own benefit? . . . And this is a Manhattan community that should have more political power and say than most! Still, this grand scheme project may be a hole in the ground for years to come. The developer is now involved in several lawsuits relating to financing and the residents of Tudor City sued to prevent the project from happening. In particular, the community in this area ought to be upset that, in order to approve the unusually immense density for the project, the City Planning Commission adjusted its review timetable to favor review of the developer-driven rezoning proposal rather than the community-sponsored 197-Community Board 6 proposal for rezoning of the area that antedated it. Since the community plan should have receive, but didn’t, preference over the developer-driven plan, Community Board 6 can compare notes and commiserate with Community Board 9 which submitted a community-based 197-a plan to accommodate Columbia’s expansion into West Harlem. . . .

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12. Columbia’s Expansion into West Harlem. In the case of Columbia’s proposed expansion into West Harlem, the City Planning Commission also followed a review timetable that sped up and slowed down as necessary to favor the Columbia-as-developer-driven plan over an earlier prepared community board-sponsored 197-a plan. Columbia’s own plan involves some highly intricate and odd-explanation reasoning about why there has to be a neighborhood-wide, seven-story-deep basement under the project such that, according to Columbia, Columbia must be granted each and every fraction of real estate it wants to develop in the vicinity over the next 25 or more years, no ifs, ands or buts and with not the slightest little corner clipped off. Columbia probably benefits a lot in its quest in that the other residents and landowners in the neighborhood it is figuratively knocking off the economic up-escalator are not high income. It probably benefits even more in its quest in that people recognize Columbia is a revered nonprofit institution chartered for the high-minded purposes of education and, as they have emphasized recently, health care research. Therefore people have been eager to accommodate and subsidize the “venerable” institution by bestowing upon it the right to eminent domain windfall. Columbia is being subsidized by allowing it to acquire real estate at extra-low prices by this exceptional special means of acquisition. The West Harlem community at whose expense Columbia is being subsidized should be sending a valentine to the community of Greenwich Village where, similarly, a revered nonprofit chartered for high-minded purposes, St. Vincent’s Hospital, has persuaded people that it should be subsidized by being allowed to acquire real estate at extra-low prices in other than the standard way.

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13. The Rudin/St. Vincent’s Real Estate Deal. St. Vincents and its real estate partner, the Rudin Organization, are being allowed to sell off a portion of the Greenwich Village Historic District in order to replace landmark buildings with buildings of substantially greater density than could otherwise be built within the historic district. Just like Columbia, the nonprofit St. Vincent’s (and its for-profit real estate developer partner Rudin) argues that it must be allowed to develop precisely the real estate it says it needs and no other real estate, no ifs, ands or buts about it. And of course, just like Columbia, doing so will result in the greatest real estate subsidy for the “venerable” institution. The Rudin/St. Vincents’ proposal is quite a shell game. It involves swapping around different uses at different properties at several sites to play its magic tricks of garnering more density while putting asunder a portion of the historic district. The hospital claimed that due to hard times it had fallen upon and poor original planning, buildings built only 24 and 21 years before (with special planning accommodations) need to be torn down on an accelerated basis. Don’t, however, take your eye off the resulting increase in density. Like so many other proposals, the Rudin/St. Vincent’s proposal feinted by starting out with a proposal of something far worse than what they intended. This way politicians could say that they had negotiated “improvement” over what might have come to pass. The historic Greenwich Village neighborhood that is having these tricks played upon it should send one of their valentines to the downtown South Street Seaport Historic District.

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14. South Street Seaport Shenanigans. There is a plan afoot to tear down buildings in the South Street Seaport complex. The buildings proposed to be torn down are not old. They were heralded as masterpieces of special government-assisted planning in Time magazine when they were built only 25 years ago in the summer of 1983. The proposal involves a lot of swapping properties around (just like the Rudin/St. Vincent’s real estate deal) but the net effect would be to allow a developer to build something new very densely (just like the Rudin/St. Vincent’s real estate deal) out over the water. A drumbeat was started about how the South Street Seaport’s time had come, how it was old and passe. Listening to the real estate community come alive with buzz, you could tell long beforehand a plan was in the works. South Street Seaport mall tenants are collectively litigating, charging that the mall is being intentionally mismanaged to run it into the ground. If the developers succeed in what they want to do, much of the historic character of the Seaport will be sacrificed. Do we need to give special permission to a developer to replace a project the city helped build only 25 years ago? Do we need to give special permission to a developer to build, with massive density, over our river when only a few blocks away from the Seaport sits a huge parcel of undeveloped land that has been vacant for decades? Where is the spirit of good planning? Where is the spirit of saying good planning takes precedence over simply accommodating every developer’s rigamarole-plan and desire to build at extraordinary density? The Landmarks Preservation Commission turned down the recent initial South Street Seaport proposal. Expect that, like the Rudin/St. Vincent’s real estate deal, the developer will return with something that is “not as bad.”

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15. The Pre-eminent Master Plan Abandoned: New Goldman Sachs Tower at Battery Park City. For those concerned about design being forced to take a back seat (or just throwing design away) when the goal is to accommodate a special freebie deal to squeeze in extra density where it was never previously supposed to go, send a valentine to the community of Battery Park City. No community or neighborhood built in NYC within the last half century has been as renowned as Battery Park City for the exquisite perfection of its master planning. That is why when you visit Battery Park City it is immediately apparent that there is a one giant new overbearing building that doesn’t fit in with the orchestrated family of buildings that constitute the rest of the community: the new Goldman Sachs tower. The marvelous balance and beautiful interplay apparent everywhere else in the community is immediately and obviously missing when it comes to the jarring building that was specially subsidized for Goldman. You know instinctively that the renowned Battery Park City master plan was abandoned in order to dump the building’s density into the community. Could the extra new density of the building have been accommodated if properly designed to fit in? The answer goes unaddressed because it looks like no one even tried. It is not clear that anyone tried to exact much of anything from Goldman when Goldman and our public officials were sneaking this one in.

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16. Rebuilding at Ground Zero. Before the Goldman building was built, Battery Park City was always considered to be a job exceptionally well done, from which others could learn. Here is something that should engender an exchange of valentines: When it comes to sadness that these immediately present and obvious neighboring Battery Park City design exemplars were ignored, we have pointed out that the rebuilding at Ground Zero also falls short of learning any of the lessons evident from the quality of design at Battery Park City. Ground Zero serves as an example of how, when actually given the often coveted opportunity to replace an only recently designed section of the city (South Street Seaport opened in 1983, the ribbon cutting for the Twin Towers was only ten years earlier, April 4, 1973), our current city officials are not inclined to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from past mistakes so as to produce significant improvement even when there is enormous impetus to do so. The redevelopment of Ground Zero is not one of the worst things happening in New York City. It is probably one of the best, but one would expect that with such a high profile do-over we would get the very highest possible urban design quality. You would expect that the design would learn from, reflect, match or exceed and integrate with the best design in the adjacent Battery Park City. Instead, we are getting something where the design is not of the highest quality or as exceptional as it should be. The new Ground Zero design is too much a bunch of conventional straight-up towers, some with unfortunately intimidating fortress-like bases, zooming skyward for maximum density. Qulaity of the design aside, the filling of this hole in financial downtown is proceeding with aching slowness. Why so slow? Partly because of efforts to accommodate real estate owners by struggling to squeeze in maximum density, notwithstanding the creation of new public space, an improved transit hub and the restoration of desirable previously removed streets.

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17. Moynihan Station (The New Penn Station). If your heart aches with sadness for how slowly desirable public development proceeds when bollixed up when the extraneous sidetracking concerns of developers replace concerns that should be in the forefront, consider Moynihan Station, the proposed replacement for Penn Station. This is to say that our downtown lower Manhattan Ground Zero neighbor communities ought to be sending a valentine up to the Penn Station neighborhood. Government officials have been saying that the new station project, conceived decades ago, was ready and supposed to start in earnest as far back as 1997. As of the spring of 2003, with things sufficiently settled after 9/11, the project was supposed to have been completed by 2008. It hasn’t even been begun. Why? Our public officials put the public project in the hands of private developers to diddle with. Why? Because, in theory, that way they could get something for nothing. The developers stepping in were to take care of things that would normally be public responsibilities. But there is no free lunch. Something for nothing is too good to be true and when somebody offers you a deal that is too good to be true, the advice is to reject it because someone is probably scamming you. In other words, the party that offers you a something-for-nothing deal is going to be interested in what’s-in-it-for-them. So what happened when the public train station was turned over for developers to take the lead? For the developers it became all about making profit on adjacent properties. Things went so far afield as for the developers to focus on whether they could acquire and tear down Macy’s, “the world’s biggest store” in order to build huger and huger buildings in the vicinity! No wonder the possibility of proceeding in 2003 with any ghost of the 2008 “completion date” came and went. If you are not building a new train station but negotiating to buy and redesign a whole neighborhood with the goal of putting private developer profit in your pocket, you are talking a whole different time frame and the lead winds up being taken by entities whose eye is on a different ball. Developers were focusing on building towers where Madison Square Garden is and enacting laws to transfer development rights to adjacent properties they owned or were trying to buy. (Image above from Muncipal Art Society 2007-2008 Annual Report: Voice for the Future of Our City.)

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18. Christine Quinn’s West Side of Manhattan: Hudson Yards and a Lot Else. Want to send a valentine to a community that might appreciate that you get less when you send in (or allow) a developer to do the job or jobs that government should do? The Penn Station neighborhood can send a valentine to the part of western Chelsea where the Hudson Yards project is planned to go, . . . someday. The developer has just been given an extension on making payments and, accordingly, it needn’t proceed with the project now. The extension is because the economic times are tough. If that is the reason for an extension it could be quite some time before anything starts there. A lot of economists are saying they expect things to be economically tough for at least five years. Things have come to an unfortunate standstill now, but this standstill didn’t need to have occured. It is directly due to a fateful decision public officials made to relinquish public development responsibilities for the 26 acres in order to put them in the now inert developer’s hands. Government had two options for developing the 26 acres and many argued the wrong choice was made. Government could have prepared the 26 acre site for development itself at it own expense. It could then have offered individuals sectioned-off development lots to the various highest bidders ready, willing and able to proceed with development immediately. Those in favor of proceeding this way argued, correctly, that this is the way that government would have received the greatest recompense for the publicly owned railyards that are to be developed. That greatest recompense would be calculated after netting out the government’s expenditures to prepare the site. Furthermore, the value of the site is currently escalating terrifically because the government is busy constructing an extension of the #7 subway line to the site. Instead, our local officials decided to have one developer take and prepare the entire site. For a variety of reasons this lowers the amount the public will receive for the 26 acres. Among other things it forces the developer to bear risk associated with when the new subway extension might actually be in place to benefit the site, a risk which could be more appropriately borne by the government. It also means that it is more difficult for the developer to undertake the financial carriage of the substantial cost of site preparation when the developer can’t reliably factor the timing and amounts of their recoupment when they actually complete commercial development. All of this uncertainty must be reflected in a lower price. And now, in addition to that lower price, it is also reflected in the developer’s delay in proceeding and in making payments for the site. Ironically, one reason the unprepared site was sold at a lower purchase price was so as NOT to have to postpone receiving these payments.

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.

Would the current change in the economy resulting in the developer's default have made it possible at this point to switch over and have the government prepare the site, especially as time now seems to have borne out that this would have been the better way to proceed in the first place? Yes, the developer missing its payments presented precisely this valuable opportunity. BUT that is exactly what the administration elected NOT to do when, instead, it extended the developer’s rights to the 26 acres.

Extending the developer’s rights seems consistent with a city administration bias, as exprssed by the adminstration itself, to bequeath extended monopoly rights to individual large developers for large swaths of acreage that they will have on an “unfolding” basis “across many years” and “economic cycles” no matter the “various economic conditions” encountered along the way. Why does the Bloomberg administration do this? Is there benefit to this particular administration’s making single large, unstructured and inchoate bequests that apply for decades going out, thus sidestepping multiple opportunities for bids and checkpoints on accountability going forward into the future? By their very nature these arrangements limit participation in ownership of the city only to the very largest developers, and the arrangement works out only if the very large developers happen to remain solvent for longer than many people’s careers.

If Hudson Yards ever gets in gear and starts moving again it will be good because, like the redevelopment at Ground Zero, Hudson Yards (and the preservation fo the High Line which wraps into it) is one of the better things happening in New York right now. That’s a nice reversal because not long ago the Bloomberg administration wanted instead to bring to this same site one of the worst things that could have happened to Manhattan, the west side Jets Stadium. Adding to the unfairness of putting a stadium in a central city neighborhood, the area nearby already suffers from arena blight in the vicinity of Madison Square Garden. Even if the community dodged the Jets Stadium bullet, perhaps the neighborhood, represented by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, would like to send some valentines to other city communities faring less well in avoiding inappropriate stadium and arena development. On behalf of her constituents, Quinn complained that the stadium was not properly planned or thought out, noting the order in which things had happened: “I just don’t think there’s been the kind of process where anyone’s tried to determine what the city really needs. The planning was done after the goal had already been decided.”

Yes, the Jets Stadium, was defeated and in its place will probably be something much better, but how effective is Christine Quinn in opposing the mayor on behalf of her community, notwithstanding the fact that she is the speaker of the City Council? Quinn is the perpetual ally of Bloomberg such that, in the case of everything we have talked about in this article, she has sided with Bloomberg against the interests of local communities. (In most recent news that means the Dock Street project.) Does that mean that when it comes time to consider the particular interests of her own community’s constituents she is effective at providing anything more than lip service in opposing the mayor? Quinn had little to do with defeating the Jets Stadium proposal which was defeated in Albany. Even though we can say that the new plans for commercial and residential Hudson Yards development represent one of the best things that could be going on in the city, the plans could certainly be improved. In this regard Speaker Quinn has participated in ineffectually raising community concerns that are being ignored by the Bloomberg administration. A January 8, 2008 open letter to the MTA from the Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee signed by Quinn and other politicians, including Senator Duane, Borough President Stringer and others, expressed concerns about government’s efforts to cram “unprecedented density” onto the Hudson Yards site: “There is too much density for a successful environment.”

The density planned for Hudson Yards is only slightly more than the overall significant increase in density planned for a wide surrounding area. The amount of density in the works may not yet have caught the attention of all of Quinn’s constituents. Overall, there will be a continuous swath of density right across Manhattan over to and including the Solow project. (Send another valentine?) Extra increased density right over Hudson Yards is being pursued as a way of generating more proceeds from the sale of the site. The MTA is technically the seller of this public land and would receive those proceeds. Since the MTA is striving to put as much density on the site as possible, the proposed density mounds up and is greater directly over the Hudson Yards property being sold by the MTA than the property that surrounds it. (The picture inserted here shows proposed density, not the density which now exists.) That doesn’t make optimal long-term urban planning sense since the density around the property closest to the extension of the #7 subway line winds up being less, although it is there that it should be relatively greater.

The Chelsea Hudson Yards community should be sending a valentine to the Brooklyn neighborhoods that are having to contend with the shove-it-to-the-public efforts of the Atlantic Yards developer. We have commented before that the Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee letter on Hudson Yards reveals where Speaker Quinn and the others should stand on Atlantic Yards. We’ve noted the many parallels between the proposed Hudson Yards and Atlantic Yards projects so that criticisms of Hudson Yards, which is a relatively good project (a high density project in a high density neighborhood), also apply to Atlantic Yards. At the same time, all the ways in which Atlantic Yards is different from Hudson Yards make Atlantic Yards probably the Bloomberg administration’s worst “city-planning” escapade. Interestingly, one of the things that makes Atlantic Yards so much worse is that the MTA is NOT maximizing the sales price of the land it is selling. Rather than raise more money for capital or operating expenses, the MTA is selling its property to the Atlantic Yards developer at a substantial write-down and collecting far less (hundred’s of millions less) than it could.

We could go on to talk about other things various of our city communities have in common. We could talk about communities that have to deal with misnomered “community benefit agreements” that are really rigged non-negotiations disguised as excuses not to provide benefit to the community. Communities such as Williamsburg and maybe even Union Square might want to submit arguments about where they fit in on this list and what their to-and-fro should be exchanging valentines with other communities. (We have a comments section.) There are other questionable rezonings to talk about, buildings and industries that are being carelessly lost. .

. . . We could go on and perhaps we should, but we think we have made our point. The individual communities across the city have their particular profound concerns about the way that development is done by the administration in this city. Those communities deal with and fight their fights individually and often don’t win fights they should win, but in a larger sense, the community concerns are concerns in common. The city is cutting deals, some of them intricate and clever, putting the interests of real estate developers first. Not all real estate developers, only the very big ones large enough to hobnob with the mayor.

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. Real estate taxes should be paid by everyone, without special friends of the mayor being excused or allowed to intercept those moneys for their own private use and benefit. Subsidies which come out of the public’s general funds (once those taxes have been collected) should not be made special and piled on the mayor’s favorites.

Government’s function should be to protect the public interest, not to sell off the public’s assets. Government functions should not be privatized and handed out to developers whose interest is adverse to the public. Eminent domain should be the public’s special and rarely used tool for those special public improvement the public itself creates and owns. It shouldn’t be handed out for private use by developers to enrich themselves however they chose by accumulating and owning more of the city. The city should stop creating artificial fiefdoms in neighborhood after neighborhood of the city where, through government intervention, the richest large and lumbering developers will hold an exclusive monopoly sway over vast acres and where, by consequence, we may have blight for decades as development languishes. The hole-in-the-neighborhood-heart that warrants so many understanding valentines.

All of this provokes the thought: If all our communities have similar interests in common then, collectively, these communities are in the majority. As a potentially powerful majority with common concerns at heart, there is no reason for our communities to be losing the fights to the mayor that they are. Or does the reasoning run that we must put up with this perpetual selling off of the public realm because Bloomberg is, in other respects, such a good mayor? Would one argue, as some do, that Bloomberg is needed as a mayor because his financial acumen is critical to the city? But the answer to that is the reverse. Just as the mayor has been squandering public realm assets by selling them off to the big real estate developers throughout the city, Bloomberg has also conducted the city’s finances in a squandering city-fiscal-health-debilitating way. For more on that see: More Discredit of Bloomberg as Qualified Financial Crisis Leader (Saturday, October 25, 2008.)

In conclusion, we suggest that mailboxes be watched for valentines that might be coming late. There is nothing wrong with that. We like the rule: “Better late than never.” We suggest that there may be a few neglected messages your community might want to be sending off even now. One way to start: Send a link to this article to someone in another community with a note explaining why you wanted to share it with them.