Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Will Fort Greene suffer the same fate as Brownsville?

Fort Greene is a booming neighborhood, with new residents moving into renovated buildings, and new developments going up every minute...

...unless your landlord happens to be the NYC Housing Authority. If you pay your hard earned income to NYCHA, then you face a very uncertain future, and your situation looks a lot like the residents of Brownsville. Here's how the Village Voice starts their article on it in "Bringing Down the House":

On the surface, Fort Greene's public housing projects look like an example of good government. Late last week, a gaggle of workers in hard hats carried pipes on their shoulders to one of the towers, and the sound of a buzz saw occasionally broke the silence. As part of a $150 million modernization at the 60-year-old Walt Whitman and Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses, the workers were replacing counters, appliances, and elevators for thousands of low-income residents.

This sounds hopeful, right? Unless you compare it to the history of the Prospect Plaza houses in Brownsville. The residents there were promised a sparkling new renovation, but the buildings that used to house at least 1,100 have been left empty, except for a security guard or two.

It's a pretty brutal comparison. Huge new luxury condos going up just a few feet away from buildings that are being emptied out.

Oh, and if you think that the $150 million modernization budget in Fort Greene sounds like a good sign, look again. A November 2006 report says that there is $48.5 million on the City budget to repair the Prospect Plaza buildings. And that's different from the $175 million for repairs as part of the Hope VI program. That program never got beyond Phase 1. In any case, that's quite a pretty penny to pay for the two security officers guarding the rotting NYCHA buildings.

There are millions of dollars on the budget for our government to fix up the NYCHA properties. But the City (with the help of the state and Feds), have decided to be really bad landlords. Instead, they spend their money (actually, isn't that supposed to be OUR money?) on subsidizing rich developers, and spending untold amounts on eminent domain procedures to remove the Duffield Street landowners.

The residents of Prospect Plaza were promised improved apartments. About 40 will certainly never see them, because they have passed on from this world. No matter what, their current abode is better than the current Prospect Plaza.

Hopefully the residents of the Fort Greene NYCHA developments will fare better.

More proof that eminent domain is not needed on Duffield

The NYC Economic Development Corporation claims that the destruction of the Duffield Street homes is important because economic development of the area cannot proceed without their proposed parking lot and grassy knoll. The Daily Eagle, a big booster of the massive developments in and around Downtown Brooklyn sums it up in Atlantic Yards Still Largest Project on the Table. The article dutifully publishes the reports of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership:

Another milestone project, long in fruition, is One Brooklyn Plaza, a 640,000-square-foot office building at the corner of Fulton Street and Boerum Place. There will also be about 160,000 square feet of retail. This project will completely change the western end of what used to be called the Fulton Mall. A second development called Albee Square Center, a housing development at the old Albee Square Mall site, will change the other entrance at Flatbush Avenue.

Another new development, which could also be a milestone, is a new 923,000-square-foot building scheduled to be built on the site of the Klitgord Auditorium of the New York College of Technology. The plan now is for 600 units of housing, all market rate; 23,000 square feet of retail; and 300,000 square feet for offices and facilities for the CUNY school.

Speculation is that either this building or Albee Square Center could become the tallest building in Brooklyn. One flatters the Manhattan Bridge entrance, the other the Brooklyn Bridge.

My! That's a lot of milestones. While most people's eyes will glaze over by these numbers, it is important to understand that a huge new neighborhood is rising.

We can still have the economic benefits of these buildings without destroying the Abolitionist homes.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The EDC backs down with its parking plan... in Queens

The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) seems arbitrary in its plans to build and tear down parking in Brooklyn. They have been doing the same thing in Queens, but they have backed down from a plan after public pressure. This doesn't mean that they are responding to that public pressure, but it does give us some hope in Brooklyn. The Queens Chronicle reports in City Shelves Proposal To Raze Courthouse Garage:

Kew Gardens residents wary of losing precious-few parking spaces to a sprawling new mixed-use facility near the courthouse can put their fears to rest — for now.

After seeking bids for over eight months, the city shelved its proposal last month to raze the parking garage near the Kew Gardens Courthouse and replace it with an enormous new facility featuring extra office space, apartments, even a high school.

The decision came after the Economic Development Corporation’s “request for proposals” failed to spark enough interest from developers to undertake the project.

NY Times writes major Eminent Domain article, fails to mention Brooklyn

The New York Tims has written a lengthy article about eminent domain in the tri-state area, Now You Own It, Soon You Don’t?. The article fails to mention that our government utilized the power of eminent domain so that the New York Times could build its brand new headquarters. Forest City Ratner is their partner in that project. (The Times guaranteed a loan to the developer. Who says newspapers are a dying breed when they can help finance big developers? The Times certainly knows how to avoid the riff-raff.)

Of course, the most controversial project in New York City is the Atlantic Yards proposal, the brainchild of the Times' business partner, Forest City Ratner. This project calls for the use of eminent domain, somehow the Times failed to mention it, as pointed out in the Atlantic Yards Report.

The article fails to mention Brooklyn anywhere in the article, even though the Duffield Street homes are threatened with eminent domain for the purposed of economic development. Duffield Street is remarkable because the City wants to destroy a potentially important historic destination for ill-defined economic benefits.

Just last month, the Times wrote critically about these dubious economic benefits in A Juneteenth Riddle: Was Duffield Street a Stop on the Underground Railroad?, so it's not as if they don't think it's worth covering. They know about Duffield Street, and simply chose not to include it in today's article.

There has been a backlash against eminent domain abuse since the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo decision. It would be hard for the Times not to write about the issue, but their omission of both the Atlantic Yards and Duffield Street raises questions about their objectivity.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

On complex land-use choices and "land monopoly"

What planet does the NYC Economic Development Corporation live on, thinking that it is worth destroying the Duffield Abolitionist homes to build a parking lot?

Norman Oder's Atlantic Yards Report addresses this question today:
Sociologist Robert Fitch's bracing 1993 book (updated 2002), The Assassination of New York, considers Robert Moses far less responsible for urban outcomes in the city than the FIRE (Fire Insurance Real Estate) elite, notably the Rockefeller family, expressing its wishes through the work of the Regional Plan Association.
The posting touches upon several issues related to the EDC's plan to confiscate private property for the sake of economic development, but Mr. Oder does address the Downtown Brooklyn plan once directly:
[T]he issue is also the way incentives shape markets; why, for example, has Downtown Brooklyn become a home for housing, when that was not anticipated in the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning? Because tax breaks make the projects that much more attractive.
And in an aside describing the EDC, the Arts Commission, and how many projects are interrelated:
[Note: the Public Development Corporation, headed by Jim Stuckey before he went to Forest City Ratner, is now the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Urban Development Corporation is now the Empire State Development Corporation. Both are Atlantic Yards backers.]
The decisions of the EDC strike me as arbitrary. Fitch's book seems to describe a process that is conspiratorial (I haven't read the book, so I can't say whether he's right or wrong):
Fitch continues:
New York's City Planning Commission bears no resemblance to Tokyo's MITI. It has none of Daniel Burnham's soaring spirit. City Planning makes no plans--big or little. The master plan for New York that was the stated reason for creating the Commission has never materialized. Its role is to validate and legalize the plans and initiatives conceived by the city's private real estate interests.
(Emphasis added)

You can't say that's true today, if you consider City Planning's responsiveness to some neighborhood requests for downzoning and contextual zoning. But what was City Planning's letter regarding Atlantic Yards but a validation of a plan privately presented to it months earlier?
The parking lot that the EDC wants to build in place of the Duffield Street properties would function almost as a private parking lot for the new hotels being built across the street. It is conceivable that the destruction of the Abolitionist homes is purely a gift for these hotels.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Newly Released Evidence of Buildings Communicating

AKRF had to do some dances to try to disprove that the Duffield Street Abolitionist homes never sheltered escaped slaves. Nobody denies that well-known Abolitionists lived there, and one neighborhood reporter, Walt Whitman, wrote about an escaped slave coming to his home in Leaves of Grass.

For some reason, AKRF found it problematic that the buildings communicated- which in this case means that there were underground tunnels connecting them. Various sources, including NoLandGrab.org report that the 2007 AKRF report published an 1855 map of Duffield, but left out the key to the map. Even though AKRF spent 2 1/2 years researching the Duffield Street history, they failed to hire an architect to study the site, even though they have one on staff.

Despite AKRF's denials, it certainly looks to me that the basement of 227 Duffield used to have a passageway connecting it to 225 Duffield. I have posted images and a video that show that most of the basement was constructed with stone, except for a small portion on the front part of the northern wall.

For photos, click here.

For the video, click here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Development Reaches Flatbush Extension in Spectacular Way

The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) argues that the historic homes on Duffield Street must be destroyed in order to spur economic development in Downtown Brooklyn. The owners and residents of these homes counter that their homes should not be confiscated because economic development is proceeding quite well, thank you very much.

Today the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published "Development Reaches Flatbush Extension in Spectacular Way" which paints an image of dramatic new construction starting a few feet from the Duffield Street homes all the way to the Manhattan Bridge:

Although Brooklyn planners, in rezoning the Downtown Brooklyn area in 2004, hoped those efforts might lead to 1,000 new housing units, no one anticipated the wave of residential development. Few had thought through the appeal of living in Brooklyn with a view.

With height plans for four of the 10 projects still being determined, there will be at least 224 new combined stories of buildings climbing into the sky.

With five buildings contributing retail space, there should also be about 113 feet of new stores. Three of these projects are in Bridge Plaza along Nassau, Duffield and Gold streets. Three others are between Tillary and Myrtle, and still another three are on the southern part of Myrtle — all east of Flatbush Extension....

If all this comes to pass, this part of Brooklyn and the old extension will never be the same.

For yet more information, you can check out the Belltel Lofts blog, which is a "is for owners or people who'd like to be owners at Belltellofts at 365 Bridge Street Downtown Brooklyn. Also, anyone wanting to discuss Downtown Brooklyn in general."

For an angrier reaction, read "The Botox Theory Of Urban Revitalization."

With all of this economic activity, you might think the EDC might want to reconsider the use of eminent domain on Duffield Street. But the EDC remains intent on destroying these homes, despite the current conditions.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer of Discontent: Building blitz backlash grows

Courier-Life publications, a Brooklyn newspaper chain with wide distribution, has put the backlash against the "building blitz" on the front cover. While the Atlantic Yards gets a great deal of attention, the Courier reported on all the other issues around town:

It’s the summer of 2007 and many people in Brooklyn are sweating more than the heat.

Their neighborhoods are changing fast and it doesn’t matter if “traditional housing stock” where you live means a three-story brownstone or a street-level bungalow – all you have to do is look through the blinds. New condominiums and out-of-character buildings are sprouting up everywhere.

“Does the city want to destroy neighborhoods? Sometimes I wonder,” Jim Ivaliotis said at a recent meeting of the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association on East 27th Street. “The city is a little pro building.”

Ivaliotis is one of an increasing number of community activists who have started crossing neighborhood boundaries in search of allies in the fight against overdevelopment.

Like-minded individuals from seemingly disparate communities like Canarsie and Bay Ridge and even beyond have been gathering in the basement of the Kings Highway Reformed Church off Quentin Road all year long to vent their frustration about out-of-character development and devise a plan for how to stop it.

Opposition to the policies of the NYC Economic Development Corporation is growing and getting more organized. Hopefully the agency will come to realize that it is supposed to serve the public, not the other way around.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

AKRF works boths sides of the fence again

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on the potential conflict of interest of AKRF, which wrote a historical analysis of the Abolitionist homes on Duffield Street:

Consulting firm AKRF worked for Forest City Ratner on the Atlantic Yards project before being hired by the state to perform the environmental assessment of the same project, according to documents.

Atlantic Yards opponents are calling the arrangement a conflict of interest, noting that the environmental assessment is a critical part of the public review process, when the project’s potential impacts on neighborhoods are assessed and the public is given the opportunity to voice concerns. Allee King Rosen & Fleming Inc, as AKRF was called when it was one of the first firms specializing in environmental assessments in the 1980s, is still among only a handful in the city capable of conducting full-scale reviews of projects in-house. The city and state hire AKRF for the bulk of their large development projects — including the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning and Brooklyn Bridge Park — but the firm also counts developers as clients.

“It’s reasonable to wonder if AKRF would jeopardize future contracts with [Ratner] if it were to find significant problems with [Ratner’s] flagship project,” said Jim Vogel of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods.

The AtlanticYardsReport.com then asks the ESDC what the policy is regarding conflict of interest and disclosure:

It remains in question, however, whether the disclosure is sufficient to have confidence that AKRF's work would be in the public interest or in the interest of its former client.

I had asked the ESDC what its policy is; in other words, how "limited" must work be and what's a sufficient time gap? After all, Philip Habib & Associates was a subcontractor for AKRF on the environmental review and apparently did more work for Forest City Ratner; Habib was listed as a consultant in the developer's May 2005 bid for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard.

It's also odd that the ESDC didn't see fit to issue any statement to me, given that I asked more than once for comment and gave the agency sufficient lead time.

Given that AKRF has a record of playing fast and loose with neutrality, this is just one more reason to question their impartiality on Duffield Street. Their recent report found that there was insufficient historical evidence at this time to prevent the Duffield Street Abolitionist homes from being destroyed in order to build a parking lot.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Michael Bloomberg, Surrealist

One of the great powers of art is to make the viewer question assumptions. Surrealists are specialists at shaking up reality, and undermining the assumptions of objectivity.

What a great description of Michael Bloomberg! Under his administration, firms like AKRF have undermined assumptions about objectivity, as in the recent installation where a judge ruled that AKRF lacked neutrality in the Columbia expansion.

Bloomberg has been working hard to upend the assumptions of the bourgeoisie. For instance, some people think that government should serve the people. Wrong! The Bloombergian art movement shows that by recycling consultants for private interests and public entities, the old-fashioned distinctions between the two are obliterated. A wonderful example of Bloomberg’s artistry is that Jim Stuckey is now the Art Commissioner [editors note: this is not a joke]. His most recent job was working as the spokesperson for Forest City Ratner.

The coup de grace of the Bloombergian revolutionary movement is in his ability to turn historical assumptions on their heads. He has expounded upon the need for turning Downtown Brooklyn into a creative center, and his means of doing this is by turning Abolitionist homes into parking lots. What a bold stroke! Would that Marcel Duchamp or Andy Warhol had the ability overturn conventions!

We can only guess what the next step in Bloomberg’s creative oeuvre. He has been an entrepreneur, a subway rider, mayor, and an artist. Maybe underwater dance choreography? The possibilities are endless.

AKRF takes some heat

The New York City Economic Development Corporation/AKRF probably didn't expect much of a fight on Duffield Street, since the businesses and homes they want to destroy don't have deep pockets.

But this story is different in Harlem, where Columbia University/ESDC/AKRF want to destroy several businesses, including one that does buy the proverbial ink by the gallon.

Meet Nick Sprayregen, "real estate investor, king of the Tuck-It-Away storage empire, and newly minted newspaper owner." He is featured in a Village Voice article, "Big in Yonkers— Columbia foe buys house organ, ponders playing it."

Sprayregen vows to drag Columbia all the way to U.S. Supreme Court, and says he's got the money to do it. With the help of civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, he won a Freedom of Information case against the state on June 27. At issue are 117 documents that the Empire State Development Corporation, the public entity that would condemn his properties, has refused to hand over. The ESDC is appealing, so Sprayregen still has nada.

But he did succeed in revealing, by means of the judge's order, that the school and the state are perhaps overly close on this one. At the outset, Columbia hired the AKRF consulting firm to advise it in dealings with the state. As part of those dealings, the state is conducting a study of the neighborhood, known colloquially as the blight study—a task for which it called in the same firm, AKRF.

The judge in Sprayregen's suit took a dim view of the ESDC's official stance on the relationship, that a "Chinese wall" existed between AKRF's work for Columbia and its work for the public. AKRF referred questions to the ESDC, where a spokesperson declined to comment on why the agency won't release the paperwork. Columbia's spokesperson, La-Verna Fountain, says the school did nothing wrong, since it hired AKRF first. Who is Columbia to tell anyone, including the state, how to conduct their business?

It's great the our public authorities are encouraging economic development. But they are supposed to serve the public, not the other way around. Unfortunately, the ESDC and the EDC have almost no public accountability, and firms like AKRF seem shameless in exploiting the situation.

Albee Darned: Brooklyn's Albee Square

Forgotten New York has a great photo essay about Downtown Brooklyn. The page is titled "Albee Darned" (cute, huh?) and among many observations, it has this to say about Duffield Street:
The Duffield Street Houses, 182, 184, 186 and 188, just north of St. Boniface [pictured above], have been designated NYC landmarks since 2001. When Metrotech was constructed along part of Johnson Street (Tech Place) from 1989-1995 the houses were moved here. They were built by Johnson Street's namesake Samuel Johnson in the early 1800s.

However: it strikes your webmaster as somewhat odd that 225, 231, 235, 223, 227 and 233 Duffield (see above), which have been on Duffield all along and are purported to have more history behind them, have not been so designated.
The site continues:

A group of buildings at 225, 231, 235, 223, 227 and 233 Duffield (shown at left) are believed to date to the Civil War era and are further believed by their owners to be former homes of abolitionists, if not stops on the Underground Railroad, as was the nearby 1846 First Free Congregational Church, later the African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church on Bridge Street south of Johnson Street in MetroTech Center.

The city has plans to seize the houses via eminent domain, demolish most of the houses on this stretch of Duffield and replace them mostly with parking spaces, and further develop 500 new hotel rooms, 1,000 units of mixed income housing, more than 500,000 square feet of retail space and at least 125,000 square feet of new office space in the area.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) appears to be washing its hands of involvement with three endangered Duffield Street houses which are linked to the Underground Railroad and the anti-slavery movement in mid-19th century Brooklyn.

In a May 28th letter to Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, LPC Commissioner Robert Tierney said, “Given the dramatic changes that will occur to the streetscape of Duffield Street, I believe the commemoration of the important role Brooklyn has played in the history of abolitionism will be better served by the program of memorialization referenced by EDC (the city’s Economic Development Corporation) and the City Council than by preserving the three buildings.” [Brooklyn Graphic]

We've seen the LPC's reluctance to get involved with altered yet historic buildings before.

The city hired consulting firm AKRF, which has conveniently failed to find any reason to preserve the houses.

A new city report has again cast doubt on claims by residents of Duffield Street that their Downtown Brooklyn houses were part of the Underground Railroad.

A city-hired consulting firm revealed this week that there is no conclusive evidence that seven houses on Duffield and Gold streets were part of the fabled fugitive slave network.

“It [the Duffield houses] ... does not have a significant association with a national figure of the Underground Railroad and his/her Underground Railroad activity,” the report concluded.

The report by AKRF, a consulting firm that researches historic claims, also refuted residents’ contention that the buildings were connected to known abolitionists.

“Of course they’re going to say that,” said Joy Chatel, the owner of 227 Duffield St. “They’re trying to whitewash the truth — that my house was part of the Underground Railroad, and that it was owned by known abolitionists.” [Brooklyn Paper]

There is a firm called AKRF which has 25 years experience in squelching opposition to big development projects. They recently undertook their longest venture in historical analysis: Two and a half years devoted to trying to deny the claims that Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn was part of the Underground Railroad of the Civil War era. They failed spectacularly. Abolitionists who walked the streets of Downtown Brooklyn would be proud. [Underground Railroad Safe Houses]

Oh, and here's a gratuitous additional photo from the Forgotten New York page:

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Round up of press criticism of public authorities & AKRF

Another week, another scandal. The Empire State Development Corporation (the state agency, which is not the same as the NYC Economic Development Corporation, which is in charge of destroying the Duffield Street homes) got in trouble again for the "practice of favoring political over economic criteria" and for conflicts of interest with firm like our friends AKRF.

The recent revelations were released in a report by A. T. Kearny, and were covered by:

The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods released a related statement: AKRF-ESDC-FCRC Connections Raise Questions About Objectivity of "Atlantic Yards" Environmental Review. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle followed up with an article: Consulting Firm Counts Both Developer and State As Clients on Atlantic Yards.

All of this raises questions of the credibility of the public authorities to use eminent domain for public purposes. The EDC admits that Duffield Street was home to Abolitionists, and it offers vague benefits of their proposed parking lot. The ESDC has been caught playing politics with their friends AKRF, and it looks like the same thing is happening on Duffield Street.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Albee Square: When the Mall’s No Longer Home

Gotham Gazette tackles some of the development issues surrounding Downtown Brooklyn in Albee Square: When the Mall’s No Longer Home:

Brooklyn’s African-American community has a collective memory of this lively slice of downtown. But now this sense of shared past is threatened by a new development proposal for the site that would remake what is now an urban, discount-oriented mall into a sleek new tower with upscale retail and apartments.

The latest vision for the Albee Square site is just one of a slew of new development proposals prompted by the Downtown Brooklyn Plan (in pdf), a major rezoning approved by the city in 2004. Since then, development downtown has proceeded on a site-by-site basis, and so have the struggles to ensure that it happens equitably. When the proposal for the Albee Square site emerged early this year, advocacy groups and locals rushed to obtain information about who owns the land, what policies are shaping its future, and how purported benefits or drawbacks could potentially be distributed among different stakeholders.


While not opposed to more office space downtown, Good Jobs New York criticizes the use of subsidies for its construction, arguing that the city could have avoided them through a more creative approach to the rezoning. Instead, the city tied its own hands, forcing itself into a position in which subsidies are necessary in order to accomplish its economic development goals.

Here is a link to PlanNYC's page on Albee Square:

Toya Morton-Swanson is taking no prisoners with her new debut novel...

...but the EDC may be confiscating the independent business where her book is sold.

One way to describe New York state is that there's capitalism for the poor and socialism for the rich. This is because the generous tax benefits that powerful interests receive, while the rest of us pay our taxes.

One small business that is fulfilling its own vision and contributing to our economy is A&B Book Distributors of 225 Duffield Street, which carries the work of Ms. Morton-Sanson. The NYC Economic Development Corporation wants to confiscate and destroy this business for dubious economic gains.

So maybe we should really describe New York as Socialism for the rich and confiscation for everyone else.

Read more about Toya Morton-Swanson as she asks:
"What would you do if your back was against the wall?"

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Oooops" —The EDC

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has been busy spending taxpayer dollars destroying existing businesses as it develops new projects with dubious benefits. The proposed demolition of the Abolitionist homes on Duffield Street is only one example. Here's today's example, taken from City takes new tack on Red Hook waterfront:

But the $56 million cruise ship terminal in Red Hook has failed to provide the expected number of jobs.

One year into operation, the terminal employed only 14 people full-time, the Daily News reported in April. The EDC in 2005 had promised 370.

Agency spokeswoman Janel Patterson said there was no official announcement and declined requests for an interview with new project manager Madelyn Wils.

"We're formulating plans which we hope we will be able to talk about soon," Patterson said, also declining to provide a time frame for a decision.

Translation: We have no idea what we're doing.
This was also covered in NoLandGrab which linked to an article in The Gowanus Lounge.

Yet more questions about AKRF

Doubt about AKRF's impartiality have come up yet again. In Revolving door: consultants AKRF and Habib worked for Ratner, then ESDC, Norman Oder reports:

In a critique issued in May of the city's similar environmental review process, Hope Cohen of the Manhattan Institute wrote:
The revolving door between powerful government and highly paid private-sector CEQR jobs means that no one wants to go on record blowing the whistle. As one developer explained, “Ninety percent of EASs are done by a small circle of firms where you’re buying the ability to influence the bureaucrats—whom they hire. A guy works for the city, then goes to work for AKRF [a leading consulting firm for environmental review], and you can’t get out of the circle.”

Does it ever seem that our governmental public planning people seem out of touch? They may seem to ignore the realities of the 21st century, but they are very much in touch with who will hire them next.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Snarky Parking Post

In order to increase the standard of living and help all New Yorkers, the NYC Economic Development Corporation has determined that parking lots are more important than the historic buildings at Duffield Street. Since I was down on Duffield today, I thought I would look to see if there are any sites that may be even more suitable to build parking. What a surprise! There already are parking facilities nearby! Maybe, just maybe, instead of destroying an important cultural resource like the Abolitionist homes on Duffield, the EDC might consider these other properties to provide facilities for automobile users.

So, fine Sirs and Madams of the EDC, even though you have the powerful tool of eminent domain at your disposal, maybe these existing parking facilities can be upgraded to provide greater ease to car drivers. This would provide the economic growth without the mess of having to kick people out of their existing homes and businesses.

--> Look for parking by clicking here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Anniversary of the Draft Riots

There is no question that Duffield Street was home to important Abolitionists. The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) does not dispute this. The EDC thinks these homes should be replaced with a parking lot because there is not sufficient evidence at this time that the homes were part of the Underground Railroad.

This is not the first time in New York that anti-slavery homes were under threat. This week is the anniversary of the 1863 draft riots, one of the deadliest civil disturbances in the history of the United States.

There is a great summary of the riots at NY Draft Riots on the Virtual New York website. Here's an excerpt:

By analyzing who and what the rioters targeted for attack during the riot we can begin to understand the complicated social, economic, and political conflicts that divided New York City's citizens in July 1863.

The city's black citizens were perhaps the most obvious and visible targets of the rioters' wrath. By the end of the first day of rioting, It was not safe for African Americans to appear in public. Rioters beat individual black citizens and, in several instances, brutally murdered and mutilated African-American men. Black New Yorkers weren't even safe inside their homes as roaming bands of rioters attacked black neighborhoods. Not only were African Americans in danger; rioters also attacked white New Yorkers who provided shelter for endangered African Americans, sacking and burning the homes of white sympathizers.
The article focuses on Manhattan, but it does show that some of the most important African-American communities have been in Brooklyn since the 18th century. Here is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of New York African-American section:

In 1796 a group of free Africans in New York City began to hold meetings that eventually led to the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the first black congregation in the city (eventually known as "Mother Zion," it later occupied a church built at Church and Leonard streets in 1801). The first black Baptist church in the city, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, was formed in 1808 on Worth Street and directed by Thomas Paul. In the same year the African Association for Mutual Relief, the first insurance company that catered to blacks, was opened on Baxter Street by several black civic and political leaders, including James Varick (first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church), the restaurateur Thomas Downing, Peter Williams Jr., John Teasman, and Henry Sipkins. African-American members of the White Sands Street Methodist Church in Brooklyn left in 1812 to form the High Street African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church, and the first congregation of black Episcopalians, led by Williams, built St. Philip's Protestant Episcopal Church on Centre Street in 1818. Out of the early African-American churches grew literary and musical societies, church schools, and benevolent organizations such as the New York African Society for Mutual Relief (formed in 1808).
You could say that the Civil War was about property rights versus human rights. But the EDC certainly is not on the side of property rights on Duffield Street- they want to confiscate property that is not theirs for dubious economic benefit.

In order to destroy property, New Yorkers used to resort to wild hooligans in the street. How old fashioned! Why, the EDC doesn't need to resort to such tactics, especially with friends like AKRF.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Duffield Street Neighborhood Gains Ground

The Duffield Street Abolitionist Abolitionist homes continue to get national attention. The July 2007 edition of the Underground Railroad Free Press reports:

Late-Breaking News

Duffield Street Neighborhood Gains Ground

This historic New York City area, threatened
with destruction by a developer, is mounting
a multifront attack helped by recruiting key
elected officials to its cause. A trumped-up
historical report has been debunked and City
officials are having another look.

Click here to download the full PDF.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Columbia, ESDC-AKRF'd Up

The Neighborhood Retail Alliance blog recently wrote about the recent judicial ruling that questions the independence of AKRF and the ESDC in working with Columbia University:
In what may become a watershed decision, Judge Shirley Werner Kornreich ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation must hand over confidential documents and correspondence to opponents of the Columbia expansion plan....

Now we have commented previously about the serious weaknesses in the city's land use review process, and in particular the worthiness of the so-called environmental consulting work that is done on behalf of developers. The good folks at the Manhattan Institute, no knee-jerk opponents of development, have cogently alerted us to the unhealthy collaboration between developers, their environmental consultants, and the review agencies that are supposed to do the proper due diligence of the data that is submitted on behalf of development projects....

In some ways ESDC, Columbia and AKRF have done us all a favor and, through their blatant disregard for any semblance of pretense, clearly demonstrated the phony nature of the UURP process in this city. Now the only thing that needs to be done here is for the consultants to be recused; and for the entire ULURP process to be suspended until a clearer understanding of the interrelationships between the parties is fully revealed.
The Columbia Spectator published a related article: Judge Orders Expansion Documents Released: Ruling Questions Objectivity of Consultants Who Work for Both State and Columbia.

Many of these issues are at play in the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment. In Brooklyn, a city authority, the EDC, wants to destroy a potentially important cultural resource for the area, the Duffield Street homes. And in order to get the research results they want, they hire AKRF.

Columbia Renounces (Some) Eminent Domain

The Real Estate Observer reports today that Columbia University will not use eminent domain against residents of Harlem. Their new flexibility suggests that it is possible to propose large development projects without confiscating private property, such as in the NYC Economic Development Corporation's proposal to demolish the Duffield Street homes. The article, Columbia Renounces (Some) Eminent Domain (by Matthew Schuerman, July 12, 2007) states:

Columbia University announced today that it will not seek to take over people’s homes through eminent domain, a huge step in addressing one of the most controversial aspects of its expansion into West Harlem.

“Columbia University will not ask the state to invoke eminent domain to evict tenants living in these 132 residential units,” Robert Kasdin, the university’s senior executive vice president, said in a press release. The announcement came two days after the school presented its proposal to rezone 17 acres of West Harlem to make way for classroom buildings and research labs—and also two days after the community board unanimously approved an alternative plan that, among other items, strongly argued against eminent domain.

“I think that’s a great first step,” said Patricia Jones, the president of the West Harlem Development Corporation and a member of the local community board.

Hopefully the EDC will realize that the development boom in Downtown Brooklyn will continue without kicking people out of their homes.

Your EDC at Work: Destroying Parking to Build Apartments, Destroying Homes to Build Parking

The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) advocates the destruction of the Duffield Street homes. Here is their statement as reported by the NY Times:

The Duffield Street site is an important component of the Downtown Brooklyn plan, a strategy to stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for residents and employees in the area. The plan calls for the creation of attractive, much-needed public open space and below grade parking on a portion of the site.

But is it necessary for a public authority like the EDC to build parking lots? And if it is, why have they been actively destroying parking in the area?

Market Forces and the EDC

As a public authority, the EDC is supposed to encourage projects that would otherwise not be built. While Downtown Brooklyn has seen the loss of some parking lots, there is great pressure to build new spaces in new developments. See:

New York parking spaces join the real estate boom (International Herald Tribune, July 12, 2007)

Livingston/Schermerhorn Development Takes Shape (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 12, 2007)

(For a listing of some of the existing parking facilities within feet of the Duffield Street homes, visit http://www.brooklyn.liu.edu/kumbletheater/directions.htm and scroll down.)

Parking Versus Apartments

The EDC’s Downtown Redevelopment plan was supposed to encourage commercial construction, and instead we are ending up with new apartments. Many of these apartments were built on the several parking on Schermerhorn. Streetblog covers this quite well in “T.O.D. in Brooklyn: Turning Parking Lots into Housing.” The Brooklyn Paper also report on the new construction in “Schermerhorn rising” (June 23, 2007).

Yet while the EDC’s plan encouraged the destruction of parking lots to build homes on Schermerhorn, just two blocks to the north, it is advocating the destruction on homes to build parking lots.


The EDC leaves the impression that it has a callous disregard for the current residents of Downtown Brooklyn. If their goal were really parking, then they could have encouraged it in other ways. As the International Herald Tribune points out, the city limits how much parking new buildings below 96th Street can offer, requiring that no more than 20 percent of the units have spaces. Since the neighborhood was rezoned, why not change that rule?

The EDC should have the larger picture in mind. It should also question if additional parking will increase the choking congestion of the area, and whether it should advocate for other forms of transportation. Instead, the first resort seems to use eminent domain for a dubious purpose.

The Downtown Brooklyn rezoning process was supposed to encourage commercial development, and instead it brought us residential development. The EDC and the NYC Department of Planning purport to promote Transit Oriented Development. Instead, they seem to be encouraging automobile congestion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

AKRF's Neutrality in Expansion at Columbia Is Questioned

“A.K.R.F., presumably, seeks to succeed in securing an outcome that its client, Columbia, would favor.”

This was the determination of Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich of State Supreme Court regarding the use of eminent domain in West Harlem.

The judge found that otherwise confidential documents should be available to certain critics of Columbia’s expansion plans because of the appearance of collusion between the state and Columbia.

The New York Times in "Neutrality in Expansion at Columbia Is Questioned" by (June 30, 2007 by Anemona Hartocollis) writes:
The main issue was the state’s hiring last year of a consultant, Allee King Rosen & Fleming Inc., or A.K.R.F., that was already working on the expansion project for Columbia, the judge noted.

In a ruling dated June 27 but released yesterday, Justice Kornreich ordered the state agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, to release 117 documents... to the West Harlem Business Group, a group of property owners who are resisting Columbia’s expansion.

A.K.R.F. is the state’s lead consultant on what is called a neighborhood condition study. The study is being done to determine whether the state would be justified in using its power of eminent domain to condemn property sought by Columbia for its expansion....

“The easiest way to put it is you can’t serve two masters, and that’s what’s going on here,” [Norman Siegel, a lawyer for some of the property owners] said. “The government has the power to condemn my clients’ property. But the process should be neutral and objective, and when you find out the government has retained Columbia’s consultant, it can’t be neutral anymore. It’s biased.”

Robert Hornsby, a spokesman for Columbia, said, “We weren’t involved at all with E.S.D.C.’s independent decision to hire outside consultants.”
Similar questions are being raised the the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) plan to confiscate and demolish the private homes and businesses in Downtown Brooklyn. The EDC hired AKRF without a competitive bid, and AKRF returned a report that concluded that there was insufficient proof that the mid-19th century homes should be preserved bedause of connections with the Underground Railroad. AKRF reached this determination without using their staff archeologist and despite the calls for the preservation of the properties by the Peer Reviewers of their own document.

When questioned by the City Council on why they hired the EDC without looking at other companies, the EDC responded that AKRF has decades of experience writing similar reports. Justice Kornreich has shed some light on AKRF's related experience.

Unlike the city's Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, the Columbia expansion utilizes a state-wide authority, the ESDC. Apparently, AKRF's reputation is known far and wide.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Connecting the Warren Beating with Duffield St.

In its July 1 issue, Our Time Press makes a connection between Duffield Street and the recent beating of Michael and Evelyn Warren. (The incident with the Warrens took place about a mile from Duffield.) "View From Here" by the paper's publisher David Mark Greaves states:
This is a very unsettling time we're in, full of memories of the past and foreboding for the future. When the police brutalized and arrested attorney Michael Warren and his wife Evelyn, the image of Warren emerging from custody, in a suit without his tie, with a swollen lip and raised fist, was to flash back to the 1950's. "I'm a lawyer," Warren had said at his first encounter at this level of the just system, "I don't care what you are," replied Officer Talvey, as he reportedly punched Warren in the face. This is a story from another time.... Or should we take the time to connect some dots and see if we'll get the picture then.

We can start many places:

....The historic Duffield Street home to the Underground Railroad Station of Mr. & Mrs. Truesdale and other like-minded abolitionists on Duffield Street at the time. A block that brought together the finest people White America had to offer, who worked together illegally with Africans escaping slavery. This is a site that should be a museum, but is marked to be paved over for a parking facility.
Note: I would say these were the finest people any country had to offer. I am intrigued by the evidence that Mr. & Mrs. Truesdale were African-American. That questions alone deserves further academic research.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Shedding Blight: Condemning Condemnation

The confiscation of private property by the government to promote economic development is being used across New York city. The DDDb rally against the abuse of eminent domain didn't get too much coverage, but the Downtown Brooklyn Star did publish a detailed article on July 5. Here's an excerpt from Shedding Blight: Condemning Condemnation:

A row of houses on Duffield Street will also be seized as part of a comprehensive economic development plan for Downtown Brooklyn. In addition to the controversy surrounding seizing private property, the homes' owners believe there is strong evidence that the houses were an integral part of the Underground Railroad, and at one time hid escaped slaves.

"They want to bulldoze our homes to make way for an underground parking lot - like we don't have enough of those," said Joy Chatel, a Duffield Street resident, before issuing a warning to homeowners throughout the city. "Buy your house and live in it at your own risk."

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Independence Day

I asked around for some suggestions on how to commemorate the 4th of July on this blog. I received a statement from Linda E., and I am putting it up in full.

The Economic Development Corporations desire to confiscate and demolish the historic homes on Duffield Street appears inconsistent with their stated goals, and there are many ways to calmly argue against their decision. I think the EDC's policies are so deficient that all I believe they really need is exposure.

That is not to say that I am not passionately opposed to the Bloomberg/EDC determination. I would like to use this Independence Day to share some of the moral outrage at the attempt to destroy these properties.

Without further ado, here is Linda's statement:

* * * * * * *

The open taking of property is going on more and more openly. Because people don't expect these things to happen here, many are unaware of what is happening. These atrocities are happening all over the world.

We are supposed to stand for something. People are dying for these principles; these inalienable rights. People cannot sleepwalk any more. Everyone has a responsibility.

How can a black grandmother responsible for many grandchildren, a person of great character who has devoted herself to others, have her home and place of work taken away by a developer using our government agencies as a conduit to take this extraordinary historic site from its rightful owner as a parking garage, or anything else. This obscene parking amenity can be put under their proposed luxury Sheraton Hotel, as other parking garages are. They OBVIOUSLY DO NOT NEED THIS SMALL YET PRICELESS AMERICAN HISTORIC SITE.

What ARE they doing? This is not just a national issue but a violation of human rights. HERE where we least expect it. It must stop, and certainly must continually be exposed.

This is also the only Black owner of the houses on this extraordinary and important historic street CALLED ABOLITION PLACE.

Have we fought the Civil War or any war for this? Has our great country been the culmination of peoples' dreams for this atrocity, this heinous act, to take place? Is this the basis for a positive future for New York?

The heinous attempted obliteration of Black and American history for which people have died, is a denigration of the actions of the most courageous people our country has ever known. This historic house represents something that cannot be bought and sold and the hope for the future. It represents black and white people working TOGETHER to save lives and for what they believed in. It represents what is best in the human spirit and the triumph of the human spirit and of what is right, in a time of stress and crisis. It is what we all need to know and bring out in ourselves. It is more important now than ever before because all we have is now, to create a humane and great future for us and for those that come after us.

That requires real intelligence and brings real economic development where everyone thrives and the highest quality of life is achieved; not the fleecing of New York.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Freddy's Standing Up with Video Coverage

There has been lots of recent coverage of the Abolitionist homes on Duffield Street. But we wanted to take the Fourth of July to thank one of the long-term advocates of these homes. Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse has posted three extended videos on the issues surrounding the historical significance of the properties in Downtown Brooklyn. Here are the videos in all their scrappy Brooklyn glory.

AKRF vs History: The Duffield St. Houses
Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse

28 min 66mb - FBR Films AKRF vs History: The Duffield St. Houses
"Companies take jobs and deliver results. The AKRF consulting company took a job with the City of New York to prove the Duffield St. area of Brooklyn was unimportant to the abolitionist movement. The only trouble is the report has many flaws. And then there's the issue of whether it is a good idea to take away history rather than to use Brooklyn's history to educate."

Brooklyn Underground Railroad Talk Show

28 min 57mb
"The City and AKRF have conspired to make Brooklyn's
Underground Railroad history disappear - for a parking lot."

Brooklyn Underground Railroad Tour

28 min 57mb
"Joy and Louis take you on a tour of their threatened homes. See for yourself what the City wants to destroy."

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

LPC Washes Its Hands of Duffield Street

Photo published by Courier-Life publications June 28, 2007

Courier-Life publications reports:

In a May 28th letter to Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, LPC Commissioner Robert Tierney said, "Given the dramatic changes that will occur to the streetscape of Duffield Street, I believe the commemoration of the important role Brooklyn has played in the history of abolitionism will be better served by the program of memorialization referenced by EDC (the city’s Economic Development Corporation) and the City Council than by preserving the three buildings."

The article, Duffield St. let down - Commission prez backs away from fight, shows that there is broad support for a memorial to the Abolitionist movement in Downtown Brooklyn, but raises questions about LPC's process. It concludes:

"That’s not the type of judgment made by an architectural historian," Furman added, "but they didn’t use their archaeologist because she might not have said what they wanted her to say. What we clearly have here is a conspiracy to obfuscate. Someone at City Hall is trying to repress this whole thing."

By press time, LPC had not responded to a request for comment.

Organizing Against Eminent Domain Abuse Around New York City

On June 27, over 100 home and business owners, activists and politicians came out in the 90-degree heat to illustrate that the City's policy of using eminent domain to take land for private development is on the rise.

Duffield Street homeowners Joy Chatel and Lew Greenstein were among the property owners who spoke about their own fight against the city to save their homes from being taken and bulldozed for a parking garage. Chatel chaffed at the notion, saying "as if this city needs more parking garages."

Citing the historical significance of the homes on Duffield St., homeowner Chatel pleaded for intervention from Albany, "Governor Spitzer, where are you?"

An emotionally charged Lew Greenstein told the crowd that it was "the little people" who are victims of eminent domain abuse and challenged the City and State to take Governor Spitzer or Mayor Bloomberg's home.

Photo by Jonathan Barkey. For more of his images from the rally, visit http://www.pbase.com/jonathanbarkey/cityhall&page=all.

Public Benefits and Other Disappointments

Downtown Brooklyn rezoning has been a disappointment to many people. Recently it has been criticized by none other than Marty Markowitz. Here is a quote of the Brooklyn Borough President as reported in the Brooklyn Papers:

“The time has come to revisit [the plan] in order to amend the zoning resolution to include such [affordable housing] provisions, and to fix what was started three years ago,” Markowitz said in a statement as part of an otherwise unrelated rezoning issue in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a strong advocate for destroying the Abolitionist homes on Duffield, contends that 3,000 of the planned 17,000 new units in the pipeline will be affordable housing, but the Partnership declined to give details at this point.

Norman Oder explains:

That's because, out of nearly 3200 affordable units listed in a document distributed by the Partnership in April, 2250 of them are attributed to the Atlantic Yards project, which might extend the definition of Downtown Brooklyn, but was not included in the rezoning.

Many New Yorkers get confused the Atlantic Yards proposal and the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning confused. But the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership certainly knows the difference. So it's curious that they are trying to latch on to the benefits of the Atlantic Yards proposal.

Norman Oder has addresses similar issues in The unexpected housing boom in Downtown Brooklyn, some curious statistics, and an Errol Louis misreading:

deMause also points to "the incestuous nature of the planning process," involving public-private organizations led by staffers who worked for Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff or Borough president Marty Markowitz.

All of this raises an important question: What are the public benefits of the Downtown Brooklyn plan? If the plan is not living up to its promises, should the Economic Development Corporation continue with its eminent domain condemnation of private property? Eminent domain is only supposed to be used for some public good.