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don't destroy

BROOKLYN     Press Release Main Page

For Immediate Release: July 12, 2006

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn Continues Momentum
Announcing Eight New Advisory Board Members:
Former NY City Planning Commissioner and Urban Planner Ron Shiffman
Joined by Lynn Nottage, Rick Moody, Toshi Reagon, Philip Gourevitch, Myla Goldberg,
Michael Showalter and Chris Doyle

BROOKLYN, NY­Today Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) announces eight new additional members of its Advisory Board, first formed in May, increasing the board to 41 members.

Former New York City Planning Commissioner and Pratt Institute Professor of Planning Ron Shiffman is joined by seven other prominent Brooklynites: author Rick Moody, playwright Lynn Nottage, Brooklyn singer Toshi Reagon, author Myla Goldberg, author and editor Philip Gourevitch, artist and architect Chris Doyle, and comedian and actor Michael Showalter as the newest members of the DDDB Advisory Board.

DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein said, "Our Advisory Board continues to grow with prominent Brooklynites from diverse fields and areas of expertise. The addition of Ron Shiffman­an internationally respected urban planner­humbles us and shows that the Forest City Ratner proposal cannot stand up to scrutiny on the planning level as well as so many others; and what was once considered a 'done deal' appears to be coming undone and dying. These new members have joined our Advisory Board to continue its work as doers, donors and door-openers." 

"Until this month, I have chosen not to speak out publicly concerning Forest City Ratner's proposed Atlantic Yards project. After participating in a planning charette sponsored by City Council Member Letitia James in 2004 shortly after the proposal was first announced and after circulating some ideas about the developer's proposal, I decided not to speak out on the issue in part because I believed that the inclusionary housing component was an important victory and believing that a more rational plan would eventually emerge. 

However, that alternative has not emerged. Forest City Ratner (FCR) and, by extension, the City and State of New York, continue to follow a process that is fundamentally flawed in pursuit of a plan that, if implemented, would scar the borough for decades to come…"

­ Ron Shiffman, FAICP, Hon. AIA ­ Urban Planner, Former City Planning Commissioner
Click to continue reading Ron Shiffman's statement (or read it at the end of this release.)

"As a lifetime resident of Boerum Hill, I've watched the historic brownstone neighborhood move through several stages of evolution and blossom into a rich diverse community.  I now seriously fear that Ratner's colossal and ill-conceived  "Atlantic Yards” project will destroy the integrity of our brownstone neighborhoods by comprising the environment with traffic and pollution created by such a large-scale development.  Our tree-lined streets have long been the refuge of people seeking the light and tranquility of Brooklyn, and Ratner's project threatens to jeopardize everything that we hold near and dear.

Why should our tax dollars be used to subsidize an unnecessary sports arena, when we so desperately need more middle schools, high schools and public services to accommodate our expanding population? Yes, develop the rail yard, but develop it in a way that establishes a dialogue with the surrounding communities and is truly sensitive to the needs of its residents."

­ Lynn Nottage, Playwright

"From an urban design perspective, 'Atlantic Yards' is quite a magic act. In this case, the magician does something magnificent and showy with the right hand, while the left is under the table getting down to business desperately hoping his audience won't notice. The project, as it is currently proposed, is all decked out with the intent to dazzle. Fortunately, we who love Brooklyn are not seduced by the shiny objects. As much as the perpetrators of this first-year architecture school phantasmagoria would like us to embrace the flash, we can't help noticing that the project is insensitive in every conceivable way.  We cannot sit quietly while a private developer razes a neighborhood rich in history to satisfy his urges."
­ Chris Doyle, Artist and Architect

"Ratner's grandiose objectives seem destined for disaster. I'm in favor of developing the community but this plan completely contradicts what I and others love so much about this borough."
­ Michael Showalter, Comedian and Actor

"The Forest City Ratner development proposal in Prospect Heights is a proposal only a politician could love. It creates bad jobs, if any, destroys neighborhoods, displaces families, demolishes the community-oriented character of Brooklyn, and brings more out-of-town traffic through some of the most dangerous intersections in the city. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn represents an attempt by the communities of Brooklyn to be heard in this process. As such, the organization is crucial to attempts to repel this bloated, greedy, and ill-conceived project."
­ Rick Moody, Author

"Jane Jacobs said, 'Design is people.'  Forest City Ratner has ignored the latter half of this equation.  It is our job to make sure that people are returned to their proper place in determining the fate and shape of their community.  Brooklyn deserves no less!"
­ Myla Goldberg, Author

The Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn Advisory Board is:

Mr. Pheeroan akLaffMusician
Ms. Jo Andres Artist
Mr. Marshall BrownProfessor of Architecture
Mr. Steve Buscemi Actor, Filmmaker
Reverend Dennis DillonChief Executive Minister, The Brooklyn Christian Center
Mr. Chris Doyle ­ Artists and Architect
Reverend David DysonPastor, Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church
Ms. Jennifer EganAuthor and Journalist
Mr. Sean ElderProfessor and Journalist
Mr. Jonathan Safran FoerAuthor
Ms. Marian FontanaAuthor and Activist
Dr. Mindy FulliloveAuthor and Professor
Mr. Peter GalassiMuseum Curator
Mr. Nelson GeorgeWriter, Filmmaker and Cultural Critic
Ms. Myla Goldberg ­ Author
Mr. Philip Gourevitch ­ Author and Editor
Ms. Christabel GoughPreservationist
Ms. Sheri HolmanAuthor
Ms. Susette KeloHomeowner, Lead Plaintiff in Kelo v. City of New London
Ms. Nicole KraussAuthor
Mr. Clem LabineEntrepreneur and Preservationist
Ms. Jhumpa LahiriAuthor
Mr. Bob LawEntrepreneur and Community Activist
Mr. Heath LedgerActor
Mr. Jonathan LethemAuthor
Mr. Rick Moody ­ Author
Mr. Francis MorroneAuthor and Literary Historian
Ms. Peggy NorthropEditor, More Magazine
Ms. Lynn Nottage ­ Playwright
Ms. Evelyn OrtnerPreservationist
The Honorable Major OwensUnited States Congressman
Ms. Rosie PerezActor
Ms. Toshi Reagon ­ Brooklyn Singer
Mr. David SalleArtist
Mr. Ron Shiffman, FAICP, Hon. AIA ­ Urban Planner
Mr. Michael Showalter ­ Comedian, Actor
Mr. Robert SullivanAuthor
Ms. Michelle WilliamsActor
Ms. Martha WilsonArtist and Founding Director, Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.
Mr. Dan ZanesMusician
Mr. David ZirinSports Commentator

DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein said, "Ratner's ‘Atlantic Yards' proposal is the largest single-source development proposal in the history of New York City. Such a massive scheme, with its multitude of controversies, enormous public cost, potential impacts and ramifications, deserves much greater scrutiny from our elected representatives, from the press, and from the public. The astounding diversity and prominence of the members of our Advisory Board is conclusive evidence of the deeply important issues at stake and of the strength and breadth of the opposition to Ratner's undemocratic, destructive and costly plan. Mr. Ratner and his political supporters wish to marginalize us and the community, but with the formation and growth of our Board it is clear that the opposition is bigger and stronger than ever, and that Ratner's plan is floundering."

"Our DDDB Advisory Board members were recruited because they predominantly hail from or reside now in Brooklyn.  Like us, they respect and appreciate Brooklyn's special character, and have chosen to join with us and the community so that our collective voices resonate even more clearly in the cacophony," said DDDB President Eric Reschke.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and 30 co-sponsors will hold a rally against Ratner's Skyscraper City this Sunday, July 16 at 2pm at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Performers will include Dan Zanes, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, and Beatboxer Entertainment. Speakers will include Councilmembers Letitia James and Charles Barron, Actor Steve Buscemi, Activist Bob Law and candidates from political races including the 11th Congressional District and the 57th Assembly District.
More information here: http://www.dddb.net/php/latestnews_Linked.php?id=108

Atlantic Yards: Staving Off a Scar for Decades
By Ron Shiffman

Until this month, I have chosen not to speak out publicly concerning Forest City Ratner’s proposed Atlantic Yards project. After participating in a planning charette sponsored by City Council Member Letitia James in 2004 shortly after the proposal was first announced and after circulating some ideas about the developer’s proposal, I decided not to speak out on the issue in part because I believed that the inclusionary housing component was an important victory and believing that a more rational plan would eventually emerge.

However, that alternative has not emerged. Forest City Ratner (FCR) and, by extension, the City and State of New York, continue to follow a process that is fundamentally flawed in pursuit of a plan that, if implemented, would scar the borough for decades to come.

Like many of my Brooklyn neighbors, I did welcome the idea of Brooklyn once again being the home of a major sports franchise. Some viable sites already existed for an arena, the most obvious being Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Center Mall, a failed design with a limited life expectancy that constitutes a major blighting on the border of Fort Greene, near the proposed Atlantic Yards site.

The mall site would not require the use of eminent domain and would allow for the phased redevelopment of the surrounding area. It would necessitate the reconstruction of the Atlantic Avenue Subway Station, including the development of a concourse to accommodate larger numbers of people, the development of an enhanced transit strategy focused on regulating auto access, maximizing pedestrian access, and emphasizing public mass transit access within Brooklyn, as well as between Brooklyn, Long Island, New Jersey and other parts of the city.

I agree that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard—a portion of the proposed project footprint-- provides the opportunity to weave together the low-rise communities of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. While this area along the Atlantic Avenue corridor could accommodate higher densities, density is a relative term. The density proposed by Forest City Ratner far exceeds the carrying capacity of the area’s physical, social, cultural, and educational infrastructure. The Atlantic Yards density is extreme and the heights of the proposed buildings totally unacceptable.

If Forest City Ratner’s proposal proceeds at the current scale, it would constitute the densest residential community in the United States and, perhaps, Europe, with the exception of some of suburbs of Paris. There, the oversized designs gained applause from the architectural elite before residents found them inhumane. I fear Forest City Ratner’s proposal will become the Brooklyn equivalent of Pruitt-Igoe, the notorious St. Louis public housing towers that have since been demolished. Quite frankly I do not believe that any of the decision makers from the Borough President to the Governor have a grasp on how overwhelming and out-of-scale this development is.

When the project was announced in December 2003 with endorsements from the mayor and borough president, that signaled a planning process that is both fundamentally wrong and establishes a dangerous precedent. A private developer shouldn’t be allowed to drive the disposition of publicly owned or controlled land without a participatory planning process setting the conditions for the disposition of that land.

This flawed process is compounded by the proposed misuse of the powers of eminent domain. To use “blight” as the basis for eminent domain is ironic when every indicator is that this area of Brooklyn would have seen a regeneration along the lines of Soho and TriBeCa had the Forest City Ratner plan not stemmed the revitalization process already under way. There have been four recent conversions of manufacturing facilities to housing, and, Forest City Ratner bought one site—mainly a former bakery—for $40 million, from a developer who wanted to turn it into a hotel. Any plan, thanks to a zoning revision, could have accelerated this step-by-step revitalization of the area that was already underway.

Sadly, FCR is responsible for the “developer’s blight” that now plagues the area. The only pre-existing blighting influence was the Atlantic Center mall. Everything else was subject to step-by-step private investment that would have facilitated the revitalization of the area, albeit with some displacement of manufacturing and the absence of affordable housing. While courts usually do uphold the “blight” argument, bad law does not mean good planning.

I applaud ACORN’s effort to make sure the developer includes a large percentage of affordable housing—originally 50 percent but no longer—in this development. Such inclusionary housing should become the standard for all significant housing developments in the city that use public land and public funds, and ACORN now calls for 30 percent in new projects. But I believe that those units should be located in viable, livable, and enriching environments and not crammed into out-of scale developments that do not provide adequate open space, community, and/or educational facilities.

If the basis for eminent domain is economic development, I find it hard to see how it could meet any of the criteria of the Supreme Court’s controversial 2005 Kelo decision. The Supreme Court majority approved the use of eminent domain in New London, Connecticut, in part because the plan had emanated from a defined planning process. In Brooklyn, there’s been no planning, and the sole developer and beneficiary is Forest City Ratner–signs of a sweetheart deal.

I had hoped that, in the past two-and-a-half years, the city, the developer, or the civic community would propose a viable alternative to the "Atlantic Yards" plan. The Municipal Art Society’s plan falls short because it avoids discussing the process issues and attempts to apply a design solution to a fundamentally flawed and ill-conceived plan. In the absence of a democratically accountable process and without any rational and acceptable alternative on the horizon, I believe that the FCR plan must be defeated and the process of revitalizing the rail yards completely rethought. I have chosen to support the efforts of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s and have joined the group’s advisory board.

Ron Shiffman is a professor at the Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment at the Pratt Institute, director emeritus of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, and from 1990-96 a commissioner on the New York City Planning Commission.

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fighting for development that will unite our communities instead of dividing and destroying them