Saturday, December 17, 2005


The Times Real Estate section on Prospect Heights: no blight, and few warnings

You don't look to the New York Times Real Estate section for hard-hitting reporting, at least in its neighborhood profiles, so it's understandable that the 12/18/05 profile, Living In: Prospect Heights, headlined A Neighborhood Comes Into Its Own, deals only briefly with the Atlantic Yards development. And, given the generally positive spin in such articles, maybe it's understandable that there's no mention of "blight," the highly-charged term at the heart of the project justification. At the least, though, maybe it will remind Times headline writers and others covering this issue that the Atlantic Yards project would be in Prospect Heights, not Downtown Brooklyn.

The article sketches how Prospect Heights, "long in the shadow of Park Slope," has recently come into its own:
But in the last few years, Prospect Heights has begun to hold its own, enticing newcomers with attractive lofts, newly constructed luxury condominiums and brownstones that are often larger and more elegant than those in the rest of Brooklyn.

After listing new residential projects, and the opening of restaurants and shops, the 32-paragraph article devotes three paragraphs to Atlantic Yards:
Yet as Mr. Keegan and his fellow users of are well aware, there is an undercurrent to all of the recent success of Prospect Heights: the plans of the developer Bruce Ratner to build a sizable complex of shopping, offices, housing and a Frank Gehry-designed arena for his New York Nets over the railyards on Atlantic Avenue. Concerns about eminent domain issues and the project's potential impact on the area's density are widespread, as is uncertainty over what form it will finally take.
Still, not everyone is up in arms. Mark McCartney, a computer programmer who rents a one-bedroom apartment on Washington Avenue with his fiancée, Beth Elliott, lives south of the proposed project's area. "We're so far away it wouldn't affect us," he said. "And I don't like basketball."

Concerns are... widespread? Indeed, it might have helped to warn potential Prospect Heights residents of that the concerns include transit and pedestrian issues, as well as traffic. As for the blithe resident of Washington Avenue, perhaps he does not understand that the project could indeed have spillover impacts into his neighborhood (which may be south of the proposed project area but is also east).

[The resident comments, on the discussion forum devoted to this article: Oh, I guess according to Mr. Blogger I’m "blithe"...nice. It’s a reoccurring, light-hearted, short, informational piece about a particular neighborhood. Don’t take it for much more than that blogger man.
Point taken: the quote was blithe, not necessarily the person. But "light-hearted" and informational seem to come into conflict when it comes to covering real estate.]

Over the railyards? The railyard would constitute only 8.3 acres of the 22-acre site, and the arena itself would spill over from the railyard boundary at Pacific Street and occupy what is now private property. The Times has made this mistake before.

Note that the Times description here of Atlantic Yards--a sizable complex of shopping, offices, housing and a Frank Gehry-designed arena--contrasts with the more accurate description in an 11/6/05 Metro section article: essentially a large residential development with an arena and a relatively small amount of office and retail space attached to it.

Note to the Real Estate section: read the Metro section. As for "sizable" and "large," how about the largest in the history of Brooklyn? Also note that the team is the New Jersey Nets, not the New York Nets.

Another paragraph in the Real Estate article does acknowledge:
As for the neighborhood's already established housing stock, the most sought after are its polished brownstones, many of which currently feature "No Arena Complex" posters in their oversized windows.

The Times's pro and con paragraphs are hardly comprehensive:
What We Like
Prospect Heights retains the feel of unreformed, unartificial Brooklyn. Spillover or not, it is its own neighborhood, with cultural amenities to beat any competitors.
What We'd Change
Despite the character and beauty of the houses in Prospect Heights, it does not have landmark protection status from the city, as parts of many of the surrounding neighborhoods do.

Um, besides the issues of traffic and transit and all the other environmental impacts of this proposed project, how about mentioning the potential of major construction in the neighborhood through 2016? Or that "unreformed, unartificial Brooklyn" might be preserved if the process of conversion of old buildings--as in the Daily News printing plant mentioned in this article--and contextual development continued rather than be swept aside by a superblock complex.

It almost goes without saying that this article is aimed at the well-off; there's no mention of subsidized housing and poverty within Prospect Heights--unless you take hints from the below-average scores at two schools mentioned--nor of the potential displacement caused by new development.

Footnote: in a paragraph about schools, the Times article notes:
The old Public School 9 on Sterling Place is now a stunning apartment building converted by the Forest City Ratner Companies, and the current version of the school on Underhill Avenue is the only primary school in the neighborhood.

Indeed, it's lovely, but the building, at 279 Sterling, was converted to house those displaced by Forest City Ratner's MetroTech development. And those who fought Ratner signed confidentiality agreements that, if they follow the script of the agreements required of those who sell to Ratner in the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint, also require them to praise the developer. According to a 1/23/04 Newsday profile of Bruce Ratner:
[Donna] Henes was one of 250 residents in downtown Brooklyn whose buildings stood in the way of Ratner's MetroTech development in the late 1980s. She led a group of outspoken residents who tried to block the plan for four years, but eventually they all quietly accepted what she calls "substantial" offers of cash or co-op apartments.
"I think he's really done some good things for the city and he was fair with us after we fought him," said the artist and self-described "urban shaman" who signed a confidentiality agreement barring her from disclosing the amount of her settlement.
"It was huge pain, but eventually everything turned out OK," said Henes, 54.

Did it? While it may have turned out OK for Henes and for Ratner, what about the public at large that has subsidized his development, or the many nearby residents who did not benefit from jobs there.

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