Support progress—reject the Downtown Plan

The Brooklyn Paper
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The “developers” and their tagalongs have their mantra down pat: Give them carte blanche to take whatever land they want, build whatever they want whenever they want, take whatever government subsidies they want, then rest assured — there will be jobs and prosperity for all.

If only the advertised conclusion was true.

Major decisions are being made right now that will either doom Brooklyn to a cold, dehumanized future incorporating the worst elements of suburbanization and Manhattanization, or offer our communities the opportunity to thrive and grow on a humane scale.

Of several projects on the line, two would constitute the biggest, most costly land grab in Brooklyn history and would likely leave us poorer both financially and spiritually:

1) The Downtown Brooklyn Urban Renewal Plan. This is likely to be approved by the City Planning Commission by May 10, after which the City Council gets just 50 days to change, approve, reject or modify it.

2) Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards plan (it’s not just the Nets). This project gets a free ride on city approval. With the MTA apparently in Ratner’s pocket, only lawsuits may stand in the way of an ill-conceived vision. (The Nets arena, a tiny part of the Ratner-Downtown steamroller, is a masterful diversion meant to detract attention from the larger plan’s specifics.) Atlantic Yards would permanently separate the neighboring communities of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights with a high-rise, de-mapped dead zone in the spirit of Ratner’s walled-in Metrotech office complex.

• • •

The best bet for future prosperity requires, first of all, that the ill-conceived Downtown Brooklyn Urban Renewal Plan be rejected. Unfortunately, the City Planning Commissioners are unlikely to do the right thing. After all, it’s been our city planners — offering 1970s solutions to dilemmas that no longer exist in 2004 — who concocted this travesty and shepherded it through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure with little public input.

The fact that the commissioners this week agreed not to seize the property of the Institute of Design and Construction to create a fallow open space fancied by the commission’s socialite chairwoman should not be overrated as an act of wisdom; it has always been expected that property owners who make the most embarrassing noises would be taken care of — and that holds true with Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project as well (where Ratner’s abuse of eminent domain is far from its only objectionable element).

The Downtown Plan’s overall vision is massively flawed. It should be trashed before Brooklyn is trashed in its wake. Instead of the Downtown Plan, the planning commission — or the City Council in its stead — should move forward with the “up-zoning” of Downtown.

Up-zoning would allow current property owners to reap the benefits of their once risky investments and, significantly from a development view, continue the organic growth that has occurred throughout Brooklyn in the last 30 years.

Master plans may be useful in desolate, hopeless communities, and even there they often fail. Downtown Brooklyn and its surrounding areas are thriving and desirous from both a real estate and demographic perspective; removing the threat of eminent domain seizures and the bureaucratic micromanagement of land use will allow their prosperity to spread.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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