Friday, April 30, 2010

Unveiled: Two New Towers In Prospect Park By Grand Army Plaza Entrance To Help Green The Area

(“The Gates of Prospect Park,” two new towers proposed to be constructed in Prospect Park to help raise funds to cover city expenses.)

This looks like it is our day for photoshop pictures. (See our other post Friday, April 30, 2010, Barclaying Up The Wrong Tree: "Brutally Weird" Advertising That Hits “Home” In All The Wrong Ways.)

For those of you who think that above picture of two new towers proposed to be built in Prospect Park appears here because the towers were unveiled last night at Department of Transportation meeting (before Brooklyn Community Boards 6, 8 and 9 - April 29, 2010) as part of a city plan to raise funds for the redesign and reclamation of pedestrian space around Grand Army Plaza, you’ve got it wrong. Dead wrong. Described as “crowd pleasing” by Streetsblog, the DOT plan unveiled last night does a wonderful job of reclaiming “Lots of asphalt will be . . . for walking and biking” and “Getting to the central plaza will be a much-improved experience, as will biking to the greenmarket, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the park, thanks to an entirely two-way system of bike lanes.” (Read about it: Friday, April 30, 2010, DOT’s Grand Army Plaza Plan: Bold, Exciting, Crowd-Pleasing, by Ben Fried on April 30, 2010 and also see our own earlier coverage at Sunday, October 5, 2008, Modifying the Grand Army Plaza of Olmsted and Vaux.)

Thankfully, none of the above involves building two new towers in Prospect Park to pay for it.

So what is this proposal to build to new towers in Prospect Park about then?

Monday night at the Brooklyn Bridge Park hearing there was a lot of discussion about building housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park to pay for Brooklyn Bridge Park. Tupper Thomas, recently resigned from the position of Prospect Park Administrator, a role she was in since the 70s, spoke at the hearing saying that she was in favor of the housing and that she wished that a similar mechanism was in place to help pay for the upkeep of Prospect Park: “When Prospect Park was formed I wish we had the foresight to create a revenue source just like this one.” Well, if there were, Prospect Park’s entrance might look as it does in the picture with these two proposed towers on either side of its entrance.

The image of the two towers was sent over to us by the friends of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund to help illustrate the implications of what Ms. Thomas was apparently talking about.

We don’t want to be too snide with respect to Ms. Thomas on her way out the door but there are definite problems with her idea that housing is a great way to pay for city parks.

For one thing it is directly contrary to the precepts expressed by the Parks Department itself about what should guide the department when they consider generating income form the parks. On the Brian Lehrer show when New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and she were guests, Betsy Smith, Assistant Commissioner for Revenue and Marketing, said that the goal in such endeavors should be to enhance the public’s park experience:
As commissioner Benepe has said previously, really the driving force on what we want to do with businesses or concessions on parkland is to provide services to park users. And I think that sometimes people think of it as commercializing the parks, but that’s, of course, not what we are trying to do. We’re trying to animate the parks with golf course, and tennis courts and bike rentals, all the things that New Yorkers really love to use in their parks, and we use concessions as a way to get the expertise in the parks so that the public can have the best possible experience.
(See: The Brian Lehrer Show: Money for Parks, Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at about 8:31.)

We recommend the Brain Lehrer show segment as an extended meditation on what should be considered as we walk the line in commercializing activities in parks.

The other problem with the idea that housing can somehow pay for parks (as opposed to paying taxes for city services generally) is that all these funds are fungible, as Commissioner Benepe himself admitted in that same Brain Lehrer segment, and irrespective of what is `designated’ for what, it is really all going into the same pot. This is something we raised in our testimony Monday night referencing Mr. Benepe’s own remarks. (See: Tuesday, April 27, 2010, The Absurd Formula to Finance the Brooklyn Bridge Park Chosen By Those in Charge: Noticing New York’s Testimony at Last Night’s Hearing.)

Asked by Brian Lehrer about whether the approximately $90 million in income generated by parks was retained by the Parks Department for park uses, Commissioner Benepe explained that, except for a few not-for-profits allowed to retain and recycle income from some of the operation of franchises, it was not. The commissioner explained that while there were park advocates who believe all of the money should be kept by the parks department he didn’t see that it would make any difference because of its `fungibility’:
. . . we could do that, but I’m afraid that at the other end the office of Management and Budget would say, OK. you keep the $90 million and we’ll take $90 million out of your budget. So either way it’s fungible money that’s paying for city services.
In other words, though Ms. Tupper Thomas might imagine her life would somehow have been made easier with towers in Prospect Park, it wouldn’t. Even if you said that you were locating two towers in Prospect Park to help pay for Prospect Park all that money could actually be taken anyway to pay for the redesign of Grand Army Plaza, the police or fire department, or whatever. Simply because you put housing development inside a park doesn’t mean that it will pay for that park. By the same token, just because you build housing within a park doesn’t mean that it should be exempt from paying the same taxes toward general services that all residential development housing should be expected to pay.

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