Saturday, February 25, 2006


An alternative to Ratner's CBA? Development groups work toward new principles

Was the Atlantic Yards plan just a few years too soon for economic development groups to get organized? That's one conclusion from Mark Winston Griffith's article Redefining Economic Development in the February Gotham Gazette.

Griffith wrote:
A fledgling coalition of some of the most prominent economic development groups in the city have been meeting over the last year to create a blueprint that offers a comprehensive and alternative vision of what development should look like in the Bloomberg era. “Re-Defining Economic Development” -- or RED NY, as this coalition’s efforts are called -- began as an attempt to make new development projects in the city more accountable. Its participants all have the conviction that New York’s prosperity should be shared more broadly throughout the city.

While the Atlantic Yards plan was announced in December 2003, RED NY's precursors began in the following year:
The roots of Re-Defining New York go back to a series of meetings in 2004 -– the Subsidy Accountability Strategy Session -- that were put together by Jobs with Justice New York, a group that organizes to support the rights of workers and increase their standard of living. At these meetings more than 40 organizations, including the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Good Jobs New York and the Pratt Center for Community Development, attempted to figure out how to demand more public benefit from projects that received incentives and subsidies from the city and state coffers.

It took more than a year to reconstitute the group:
[A]t a meeting in November of 2005, Jobs with Justice, along with Good Jobs and Pratt, again invited dozens of activists to participate in a series of meetings, this time called Re-Defining Economic Development (RED NY).
Since the November meeting of RED NY, a working group consisting of more than a dozen organizations has emerged to establish a set of principles that could possibly be “endorsed” by a broad range of organizing and advocacy groups in the city. One suggestion is that these principles could then be used to judge the candidates for governor, and encourage them to adopt a progressive platform on economic development. RED NY is also organizing training sessions designed to help people from different economic development disciplines establish common ground and a common understanding of the issues.

Atlantic Yards alternatives?

The principles developed could have had consequences for the Atlantic Yards plan:
But Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, is very clear on the practical uses for a new economic development blueprint. The Fifth Avenue Committee is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to stop Bruce Ratner from demolishing six buildings en route to building the Nets stadium and hundreds of commercial and residential units over Atlantic Yards in downtown Brooklyn.
(Note that Atlantic Yards not a place but a project that includes the MTA's Vanderbilt Yards, and it's near downtown.)

While the developer Forest City Ratner and eight community groups, several of them with no track record, negotiated a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), that has been widely criticized. But it was the city's first CBA, and there were no standards. As Griffiths wrote:
What de la Uz envisions is a set of standards for job creation, environmental impact, buy-in from the surrounding area, etc. that the city or a private developer could be held to whenever they planned to use public resources. In her opinion such a standard would have set a much higher bar for Ratner to clear before he was able to pursue the Nets Arena project. The surrounding neighborhood, in de la Uz’s opinion, would have had “real” community benefit “guarantees” instead of what she considers to be the highly questionable and unenforceable promises for job creation and affordable housing that Ratner was able to negotiate.

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