Monday, April 1, 2013

Mayor's Prerogatives Such As They Are, No Island Should Stand Alone: Governors Island Is Headed To Manhattan

The power elite of Brooklyn Heights may be about to conclude that having prevailed in a very important battle they are about to lose a more critical, much bigger war.  Noticing New York has previously written about how, during the planning of the design for Brooklyn Bridge Park, it became a fundamental precept that views from the Brooklyn Heights promenade would consist of bucolic and green vistas* and that all the planned development associated with the park would be aggregated into concentrations of bulk and density to the immediate north and south.  This had the effect of preserving, undisturbed, the tranquility and breadth of the harbor views enjoyed by the expensive homes along the promenade.  This is what the influential Brooklyn Heights Association fought for, and perhaps, not by coincidence, it may be noted that many of those individuals connected with and having a powerful sway over that organization live in those homes.  (See: Monday, May 24, 2010, Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth? An Examination of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Terms of the Politics of Development, Part I and Part II.)
(* It should be noted that while these park areas will be sylvan and pristine to look at, the park design presents an unresolved problem about how noisy they will be for those strolling around in these stage sets replicating a natural setting because the highway noise from the BQE will be bounced directly into these closely adjacent areas.)
Now it turns out the views once thought to have been ensured by such careful negotiation by the Brooklyn Heights Association soon stand to be lost.  As one more of the many gifts Mayor Bloomberg intends to bestow upon the real estate industry before he leave office (which critics are referring to as a fire sale), Bloomberg and his administration are implementing a plan proposed by Vishaan Chakrabarti, the head of the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia University, to landfill and connect Governors Island to Lower Manhattan.  See: The Brian Lehrer Show, LoLo: Imagining New New York, Wednesday, December 14, 2011 and New York Times, Visions of a Development Rising From the Sea, by Julie Satow, November 22, 2011.

Click below to hear what is planned to be implemented discussed on the Brian Leher show.

Mr. Chakrabarti was well qualified to spearhead the Bloomberg initiative by making the proposal now being implemented: He is a former director of the Manhattan office for the Department of City Planning and before taking up his position at Columbia he was, according to the Times:
an executive vice president at the Related Companies, the large developer, where he helped oversee the Hudson Yards project and the redevelopment of Moynihan Station. He still serves as a consultant to the company and continues to advise on the projects.
He moved to the position at Columbia to finalize and release the proposal* because, according to Bloomberg spokesperson Marc La Vorgna, as an academic institution Columbia is above the fray and can be counted upon to exercise impartial good urban planning judgment since it is not connected to the “pull of real estate industry interests and the recognized attraction of the lucre that industry generates.”
(*  Chakrabarti trial-ballooned his idea in November 2011 roughly the same time that Brooklyn Public Library Head Linda Johnson similarly trial-ballooned her proposal in October to sell off libraries from the system with an accompanying shrinkage of the system and underfunding to justify the proposal.)
The Chakrabarti plan is viewed as a simple and logical extension of the New York City’s historic pattern of growth through landfill extensions of Manhattan.  However, for reasons Mr. La Vorgna went on to explain, this is not being viewed as an extension of Manhattan to include Governors Island, but instead an extension of Governors Island to include Manhattan.

From the New York Times coverage
Notwithstanding, the new real estate created will be called “LoLo” which stands for Lower Lower Manhattan which Mr. Chakrabarti said market tested with realtors very well, much better, he said, than “HiGo” or “GIGUp” which would be, respectively, “Higher Governors” or “Governors Island Go Up.”

The Municipal Arts Society, the group formed as watchdog for good urban design, is thoroughly on board with the proposal, one reason that Mayor Bloomberg felt confident about proceeding with it quickly.  Said Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Arts Society, as quoted in the Times:
“Vishaan is thinking globally. . . and is unabashed about looking at the kind of things that will move regions like ours forward.”
The trustees of the Brooklyn Heights Association, however, have announced that they are quite chagrined that the views from Brooklyn Heights and the famous promenade will now involve seeing much less of an expanse of water and that tall towers will soon be crowding inward as the East River is constricted down to narrow northern extension of what is known as Buttermilk Channel, the waterway that now flows between Brooklyn and Governors Island.

The zoning that will apply to the towers will be the new-stye, greater-density zoning being implementing around the city, similar to the Mid-town rezoning Bloomberg wants to put through, also before his term is out.  The Mid-town rezoing will permitted density in a swath around Grand Central Terminal that will be nearly double what is there now.  

The BHA trustees sad that they had been aware that the Bloomberg administration has been engineering a number of give-aways to the real estate industry on its way out, including the: sales and shrinkage of the library system’s assets, sale of schools to developers and, similarly, the sale of the public housing playgrounds as sites for luxury housing.  Nevertheless, their spokesman said while the BHA trustees were not opposing these things, not even the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights library with the underfunding of the entire library system as a prelude to that, they had not expected that Bloomberg would be taking any action in his give-aways that would affect anything that they actually cared about. This new move by Bloomberg, they said, was truly shocking.

In the fall of 2011 the Times said that the major impediment to the project was “there are strict regulations on building with landfill.”   That problem has been neatly sidestepped, obviated by clever engineering by Bloomberg officials during the waning days of Governor Paterson’s administration when, in a little-noticed maneuver, Bloomberg was handed exclusive jurisdiction over both Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park, using a structure the interposes Bloomberg owned and controlled corporations created by the Empire State Development Corporation.  This gives Bloomberg the power to proceed without any involvement from the City Council.  It also invokes all of ESDC’s exemptions from zoning and any such troubling regulations.

It is for this reason that Bloomberg is proceeding with this project as an expansion of Governors Island and not Manhattan.  Bloomberg released a statement disclosing that he has a legal opinion joined in by both the City’s Corporate Counsel’s office and lawyers from Bloomberg, L.P. that any part of the expanded Governors Island will be under Bloomberg’s corporate control.  The opinion says that when landfill makes the final connecting link to Manhattan, so that the circumference of Governors Island can be described as including that island too, Bloomberg’s jurisdictional control can be considered to expand accordingly.  The opinion also indicates that the authority will be personal to Bloomberg rather than residing in the office of mayor.

Otherwise unprepared and unmobilized to fend off such a previously unenvisioned  eventuality, the coalition of Brooklyn community groups represented by Brooklyn Speaks and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn ventured, ad hoc, to speak for Brooklyn residents on this matter as well, even though that was not the purpose for which their coalitions were originally formed.  “This is another arrogant land grab!” they said in a hastily prepared joint press release.

“This is no land grab,” huffed the mayor’s spokesperson, “this is a water grab!”

The proposal presents extreme engineering challenges but these have been thought through and anticipated by the Bloomberg administration.  The new land bridge would divert 11,375,177,142 gallons per hour from the shipping channel, about 11.4 billion gallons per hour diverted into the already 3 knot flow of Buttermilk Channel.  Before the land bridge was completed a sizable portion of that immense flow would be flowing through the current shipping channel that the land bridge would be in the process of damning up as it was filled.  In addition, an extension of subway service would have to flow to Governors Island and the new land with the new subway tunnel challenged by this immense fast flow.

If the fast-flowing waters washed away silt, unburying the subway tunnels there is danger the buoyant tunnels could float to the surface.  Things might be especially precarious in the event of another storm with strong tides like Superstorm Sandy.

Costa Concordia
Part of the inspired engineering answer is that Bloomberg administration is buying the salvaged hulk of the Costa Condordia, the Italian cruise ship that  ran aground at Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, on January 13, 2012.  New tunnels will be run through the ship’s body.  Meanwhile, a world-wide surplus of shipping tankers has tremendously reduced the cost of adding other ships to the chain.

Bloomberg says, however, he may be thinking bigger than that.  He noted that the recently built Oasis of the Seas is five times the size of the Titanic and that it was built to give its 6,300 passengers the opportunity of having “a Coney Island kind of experience” with a “boardwalk” neighborhood with an ice cream shop, a doughnut shop, a life-size carousel with horses and tigers and rabbits, all of which were hand-carved for the ship.  The Coney Island area of the large ship may actually be larger than the original Coney Island that the Bloomberg administration has shrunken down.
Oasis of the Seas
According to the Bloomberg press there could be great advantage to buying the Oasis of the Seas for incorporation into the land bridge in several respects.  Coney Island could be moved closer to Manhattan.  It would free up the land out at the old Coney Island for development.  It has always been a problem that the attraction of the outdoor amusements at Coney Island was seasonal so there would be an advantage to moving them inside a ship.  Lastly, buying the ship would clear up any dispute about who owns the licensing rights to Coney Island:  “Coney Island was never just land or a neighborhood, or a community,” said Bloomberg, “it’s a spirit that can be trademarked and licensed.  This helps us lock that license up.” 

Bloomberg also said that exclusively buying cruise ships for the linkages allowed for the possibility of maintaining and continuing over in the conduiting transit pipes the stratification features for different classes incorporated into the ships' design.  Said a spokesman, “We are alert for how any of this could work like a substitute for congestion pricing.”

The final thing noted in the press release was that almost all cruise ships have small libraries.  The Bloomberg administration might keep some of these libraries in place and functional as a replacement for the libraries it is selling throughout the city, including the Central Reference Library behind the lions Patience and Fortitude at 42nd Street in Manhattan where Bloomberg wants to rip out the research stacks this summer in furtherance of the planned sell-off of real estate to developer beneficiaries.

These ship libraries are very small, much smaller than people have been used to, but the libraries will all be along easy-to-get-to subway lines and libraries these days don’t have to be “anywhere as big as they were in that past,” says Bloomberg:
“. . .   because people don’t need to know as much as they used to.  Today we have press releases.  And the beautiful thing about press releases is that they can always be updated to tell people what they need to know today, instead of allowing them to get confused with what they might accidentally remember from yesterday.”
Given what things have come to in this city as we arrive at this first day of this spring month, what is truly extraordinary is that so much of what was once might have been presumed to be fanciful is actually absolutely true.  Check it out using the links supplied.

1 comment:

therealguyfaux said...

Somehow, the fact that this appeared on April 1st gave me pause for a moment. This is such a megalomaniacal plan that one could only conclude it was a hoax. On the other hand, a "downscaling" of the project, a Gov's I. linkway, developed with some residential and commercial/office space, and a new subway with a causeway on top of it going to both the Manhattan and Brooklyn sides of the Island, is still Burnhamesque ("Make no little plans") but a lot more palatable and hence achievable (think Chesapeake Bay bridge-tunnel, only here it would be both, one atop the other, wide enough to fit an expressway-sized thoroughfare with about two Manhattan north-south blocks worth of buildings either side of it-- not altogether unlike some of the Biscayne Bay Crossings in Miami Beach). Enough of a channel would be left, either side, for such boats as would still need to use the East River, one would hope, and one would expect that the hydrology would be modelled in advance to find what this would do. But while I believe in the "null hypothesis" (status quo), I can see that such a plan can and would be proposed as an alternative to that monstrosity being shown in the illustration to the article.