Friday, August 31, 2007

Art attack: City to evict art space for … art space!

This from the Brooklyn Papers via NoLandGrab:

This is the third land grab we've heard about under the Downtown Brooklyn plan, the other two being Duffield St. and Track Data.

This one is particularly ironic because an arts organization is supposed to be displaced for ANOTHER arts organization.

See NoLandGrab's version here.
The original article can be found here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Government agencies & mobsters at Deutsche Bank fire

Here's a great idea: why not have an agency in charge of coordinating all the different construction activity in Downtown Manhattan? That would prevent a disaster like the Deutsche Bank fire, right?

Wrong. That agency has already been established, and it's called the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC). While several seasoned fire fighters have been held accountable for the failure to inspect the Deutsche Bank building, there has been little attention on the LMCCC, despite some troubling failures.

Here is how the New York Times describes some of those failures in "Questions on City’s Role in Demolition Near 9/11 Site":
As it turned out, the subcontractor hired for the demolition was an organization comprised of executives from one company without the requisite experience and two senior executives from a second company under scrutiny by city investigators, a company whose former owner twice had been convicted of federal crimes, and had been accused of ties to organized crime.

Maybe the LMCCC would be off the hook if they didn't know about any of this, but they did. According to the NY Times, Martha Stark, who served on the LMCCC committee overseeing the Deutsche Bank building, received a letter from city investigators about the executives with mob ties working on the project.

(The Times has been doing a good job reporting on this, which is admirable. One firm in questioning, Safeway Environmental Corporation, was a subcontractor used in the development of their new headquarters. Safeway, incidently, was in the news back in 2005 when a building it was demolishing for Extell collapsed on Broadway & 99th.)

The questions of lack of oversight seem to be endemic in controversial projects around the city. For instance, the NYC Economic Development Corporation faced criticism because it hired AKRF without competitive bid in its environmental study of the Underground Railroad connections on Duffield Street.

Bloomberg has been praised for punishing the experienced fire fighters who failed in their inspections of the Deutsche Bank building. But will he hold the LMCCC accountable? As WNYC reports this afternoon, his administration is refusing to answer questions about its role due to the ongoing criminal investigations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More Duffield blog coverage

The amNewYork/Newsday coverage of the Duffield Abolitionist homes begat yet more blog postings. See

A surprising number of Civil War graves in Brooklyn

New Yorkers showed great resistance to fighting in the Civil War, but there were pockets of support for the Union cause, especially in Brooklyn.

That's one of the new revelations in an upcoming exhibit jointly organized by the Brooklyn Public Library and Green-Wood Cemetery. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on it in "Brooklyn Examines Its Civil War History":

Although there were no battles fought in Brooklyn during the Civil War, as the third largest city in the Union at the time, Brooklyn provided “tens of thousands of soldiers to the Union Army” as well as a crucial industrial base, according to Richman, who is also the curator of “Enshrined Memories: Brooklyn and the Civil War.”

“I was amazed that a number who were killed in battle were brought back to Brooklyn to be buried when most casualties were buried on the field,” said Richman. He also noted that “Brooklyn was more sympathetic toward abolitionism than New York City,” pointing out that during the 1863 Draft Riots in Manhattan, many blacks fled to Weeksville, an established free black community in central Brooklyn.

This seems to bolster the view that Duffield Street was possibly an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Slaves could escape from the south to Long Island, find refuge in Weeksville, travel along what is now Atlantic Avenue and then hide on Duffield Street on their way down to the East River to get a boat to Canada.

In any case, there seem to be many more surprises in store as we discover Brooklyn's 19th century history.

Gothamist: Underground Railroad to Underground Parking

The Gothamist connects the dots between Duffield news in amNewYork and Lower East Side coverage at the New York Times. See Underground Railroad to Underground Parking.

... And it turns out that Hollywood Jester picked up their Duffield Street story from Gothamist.

In any case, thanks for the link, Gothamist.

Hollywood Jester: Fashion DisASSter and other scandals

The Hollywood Jester has covered the Duffield Abolitionist homes- see Underground Railroad to Underground Parking. Apparently, the lives of Mariah Carey and Lindsay Lohan have been temporarily eclipsed by Harriet Truesdell and the other abolitionists who lived in Downtown Brooklyn in the 1850s.

Mayor commemorates slavery at City Hall

From the Jamaica Observer:

This year has been the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. There have been a number of government events commemorating it. But last week I went to the best day of remembrance for the slave trade that I have been to all year. It was staged by the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in City Hall.

New York was another city that profited handsomely from slavery. New York state was functionally neutral in the Civil War, and draft riots broke out at the time because of anti-black sentiment. Yet New York's mayor decided to commemorate the resistance to slavery in Brooklyn by destroying the Abolitionist homes on Duffield Street and turning them into a parking lot with a small park on top.

Other cities have found other ways to honor the UNESCO International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on August 23. Liverpool just opened an International Slavery Museum.

You can also visit Abolition200, which is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the end of legal slave trade in the UK. On March 2, 1807, Thomas Jefferson signed a bill abolishing such trade in the United States.

Failure to inspect basements

Some people get punished for failing to make inspections; others get paid not to make inspections.

There can be dire consequences when the city fails its job to do environmental inspections, and Bloomberg acted quickly yesterday to relieve three senior fire officials of their posts. Their failure to inspect the Deutsche Bank basement appears to be one of the factors leading to the recent death of two fire fighters.

This is in stark contrast to AKRF, which wrote an environmental review of the Duffield Street homes. After working for more than two years and receiving a reported $500,000, AKRF failed to send an archeologist inspect the basements of the Duffield and Gold Street properties.

The consequence for this shoddy inspection process is a continuing stream of contracts with the city and state. AKRF led the environmental review of the World Trade Center, the Columbia University expansion into Harlem and the Atlantic Yards.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Let's not bicker

The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) actions in Downtown Brooklyn are mystifying. As a result of the EDC's plans, some parking lots have been torn down to build apartment buildings, while on Duffield Street, the EDC plans to destroy homes to build a parking lot.

These controversies don't register on the New York Times, but the Times did write about the failure to develop lots in Manhattan. The EDC is explained in "Forty Years of Growth, Except Where It Was Expected":

One former city official familiar with the site faulted the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the agency responsible for the property, for inaction on the lots. While the Economic Development Corporation may be skilled with commercial development, it is not adept at planning for residential areas, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is still active in housing development.....

Current housing officials declined to comment about the sites. But Ms. Perine, the former commissioner, said the failure to build on the site reflected the reality that officials — and she included herself — focused on neighborhoods where they could build, rather than bicker.

Hopefully, this means that the EDC will simply walk away from its plan to destroy the Duffield Abolitionist homes. There are some important projects the EDC could undertake. Destroying the historic resources of Brooklyn is not one of them.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

amNY: Will Duffield Houses be railroaded?

Promoting the Abolitionist history of Duffield Street reached huge milestone today: It has received front-page coverage by a widely-read city newspaper. "Will Duffield Houses be railroaded?" (amNewYork 8/27/07) includes many new photos and video. It is the first published interview of a member of Bloomberg's much-criticized new panel to commemorate Abolitionist history in Brooklyn:

One member of the panel, Richard Greene, executive director of the Crown Heights Youth Collective, said he is hopeful some way can be found to preserve the evidence of the Underground Railroad, perhaps even incorporating parts of Greenstein¹s basement into the final design."It's just too important a moment in our history to let it be sidelined," Greene said.

To see the video, click here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A city without leaders

"It's time Mayor Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta stopped ducking and dodging."

This is how Juan Gonzalez begins asking tough questions about the tragic Deutsche Bank blaze and other incidents. He continues in "Where have you gone, Scoppetta & Bloomy":

Both men have gone into virtual hiding since Saturday's tragic Deutsche Bank blaze that killed hero Firefighters Robert Beddia and Joe Graffagnino.

How do you face a catastrophic fire at one of the most scrutinized buildings in this city, watch two of the men under your command get killed, and then refuse to speak?

Clearly, Bloomberg and Scoppetta realize the city and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., owners of the Deutsche Bank site, face enormous liability problems now for their failures to properly monitor safety at the tower.

For those of us who have seen the LMDC and other public authorities in action, their inaction is no surprise. Here's how the Downtown Express describes the LMDC in "Early Warnings":
Kathleen Moore asked officials last year what they would do if the former Deutsche Bank building caught fire after the painstaking demolition work began next door to her.

“That’ll never happen,” she remembers Charles Maikish telling her at a Community Board 1 meeting. Maikish, who until recently was the executive director of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, came up to reassure her, but to Moore it sounded like he was saying “don’t worry little lady, we’ll take care of you.”

The meeting was one of dozens the community board had over the years in which officials with the building’s owner, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, or its subsidiary, the construction center, told residents their fears and concerns about the project were unfounded.
But telling residents their concerns are unfound does not make it so. The NYC Economic Development Corporation takes the same attitude with evidence that there was Underground Railroad activity on Duffield Street- any evidence contrary to theirs is considered baseless. The opinions of experts (historians, neighbors or engineers) is not really important.

The LMDC and the EDC have brazen in their disregard for environmental concerns, and Bloomberg and Spitzer have proven themselves part of the problem, not the solution.

Gotham Gazette: The New Battle Against Gentrification

It's is quite possible that the Duffield Abolitionist homes would already have been bulldozed if were not for FUREE. Their strong advocacy was highlighted in a recent Gotham Gazette article which connected the Duffield/FUREE efforts with development battles across the city. "The New Battle Against Gentrification" reports:

The battle between Robert Moses and the West Village activists led by Jane Jacobs in the 1960s set the tone for how struggles over development in New York City are played out today. But if Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff's Moses-style mega-building threatens many poor and working-class communities, Jacobs' small-scale neighborhood sensibility poses the danger of a different sort of gentrification....

The city recently announced, for instance, that it plans to spend $2 million commemorating the abolitionist history of Downtown Brooklyn. This marked a success for FUREE. Prior to its organizing efforts there was little public awareness of this history and no effort to incorporate it into the redevelopment.

The city does not, however, plan to preserve the houses on Duffield Street in the area that many locals and scholars believe were part of the Underground Railroad. But commemorating history will mean little if Fulton Mall's black community gets pushed out, and the cultural significance of the Duffield Street homes is ignored.

Downtown Brooklyn is the third most active commercial area in New York City, after Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. The Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment was supposed to bring new jobs into the area, but instead it has created luxury housing, and helped kick out many of the existing businesses, which cater to a largely African-American clientele. This is, apparently, what the city means by "economic development."

Courier-Life: Mayor offers new plan, but street demolition is still on

The Courier-Life publications ran a story in its various papers about Bloomberg's plan to commemorate Brooklyn Abolitionism while destroying the Duffield Abolitionist homes. The article reports:

“Extensive research into the history of the houses on Duffield and Gold Streets failed to produce evidence that directly connected Underground Railroad activity to the houses,” said EDC spokesperson Janel Patterson.
The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) hired AKRF to do the environmental review (which includes cultural resources) and a follow-up study of the Underground Railroad connections at the Duffield Street properties. Even though AKRF has an archeologist on staff, the "extensive research" cited by Janel Petterson did not include an archeologist. The "extensive research" also chose to ignore the advice of their Peer Reviewers. The Peer Reviewers of this "extensive research" came to the conclusion that these properties should be preserved for further research, and the EDC published their findings here.

There is no dispute that the area was home to a great deal of Abolitionist activity at a time when New York was strongly pro-slavery. The EDC has failed to disprove that there was no Underground Railroad activity on Duffield, so they are very careful in their language.

AKRF was also the company that led the environmental review process at the World Trade Center, an area which includes the deadly fire at the Deutsche Bank building.

Daily News: Fort Greene firm rips city's seizure of longtime office

The Daily News covers the city plan to destroy a successful business. "Fort Greene firm rips city's seizure of longtime office" reports:
A Fort Greene financial services firm employing 150 workers will have to move after the city seized its five-story building to make way for a new cultural center and housing.

Longtime employees of the Track Data Corp. were stung Monday by a decision to destroy the business' 95 Rockwell Place headquarters and build the new facilities in its place.

"[The Brooklyn Academy of Music] had periodically approached us over the years, but they were never willing to pay us enough money to leave," said Track Data spokesman Rafi Reguer. "Obviously someone had a better idea, which is have the government force us to move, which they've done."

Eminent domain is the government's power to confiscate private property for the public good, and in this case it looks like someone at the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) determined that eliminating jobs is in the "public" interest. It makes you wonder what "public" they are working for.

The EDC wants to destroy a successful company to support a cultural center, yet on Duffield Street, they want to destroy the cultural attraction (the Abolitionist homes) to build a parking lot, and in other places they are destroying parking lots to build luxury apartments. The Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment plan was supposed create jobs, but the EDC does not seem interested in that goal.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Brooklyn Eagle: Financial Firm Swept Up In Eminent Domain Decision in Brooklyn

The city wants to destroy the Duffield Abolitionist homes to build a parking lot, but that's not the only seemingly unjustified use of eminent domain in the Downtown Brooklyn plan. The city wants to destroy a 150-employee firm, and has no plan to replace it. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports in Financial Firm Swept Up In Eminent Domain Decision in Brooklyn:

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) issued its eminent domain ruling on Monday, which concerned Track Data Corporation’s property along with 20 others on three blocks in Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn. There is no project planned to replace Track Data, which set up shop at 95 Rockwell Pl. two decades ago, “when there were crack vials on the ground and nobody wanted to come here,” said one employee.....

Track Data is a small firm that provides financial services similar to Bloomberg, L.P. — the company that made the mayor a billionaire — but with less than 1 percent of Bloomberg’s $4.7 billion in annual sales....

So far, Reguer said the company hasn’t received a relocation offer — which he said is strange given that the city is always looking to recruit and retain financial firms.

But Track Data is not at a loss for suitors. Reguer said economic development entities in New Jersey, the South and Canada are constantly trying to woo the firm to relocate within their borders.

Seth Donlin, an HPD spokesman says that eminent domain is used to obtain consolidated pieces of property so comprehensive redevelopment plans can be realized. In practice, this means that Brooklyn-based companies are no longer welcome.

LMDC: Deutsche Bank fire an example of good coordination

The New York state public authorities tried to defend their actions in the wake of the deadly Deutsche Bank fire. Here's what Metro reports in "Who's to blame":
Avi Schick, chairman of the LMDC, defended his agency.

“The deconstruction plan was conceived of and approved by a variety of federal, city and state regulators,” he said. “It was not proposed by LMDC but was put together in coordination with those agencies. Those agencies were on-site every single day and every single week that work occurred. We believe that those features exceeded what would have been normally provided.” (emphasis added)

For those who are facing oversight by other projects lead by state and city agencies, that sounds pretty frightening.

One feature common by the state agencies is blaming the community. Here's a quote from Debris fell but price kept rising by Juan Gonzalez:

[LMDC spokesperson Errol] Cockfield said. "There's been a desire from the community to have this building demolished and you have to balance safety along with the need to bring the building down at an aggressive pace."

Community leaders dispute that.

They say they have always urged safety, not rapid demolition. They say LMDC and City Hall have pressed to demolish the building quickly so Ground Zero construction can get going.

"We repeatedly called for a single agency to oversee the deconstruction and environmental aspects," said Amy Rutkin, chief of staff for Rep. Jerrold Nadler. "They kept kicking the ball back and forth between agencies for years."

Some have blamed the Fire Department for the recent deaths, but not Jerome M. Hauer, director of the city's Office of Emergency Management from 1996-2000. According to the NY Times,
he said the accountability for what occurred “has to rest” with the building owner and the demolition operators, not with the Fire Department.

There are still many questions regarding the Deutsche Bank fire, and this blog takes no position on the ultimate responsibility. Nevertheless, the fire does not provide any comfort for those confronting other projects led by public authorities, like Duffield Street residents facing the NYC Economic Development Corporation.

BORN TO RUN: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626 to 1827

There is growing interest in slavery in New York, in part because of the growing realization of the Abolitionist movement in Downtown Brooklyn. There is a PhD thesis online at which fills in details about this history, focusing on 1626 to 1827. Here are some excerpts relating to Brooklyn:

Africans imported into New York found a ready market. The ownership of slaves was widespread in early New York: of the forty‑eight heads of household in Flushing in 1675, ten (20.8 percent) held slaves. In 1683 five (13.2 percent) of the thirty‑eight householders in Flatlands owned slaves. In 1686 Southold's 114 families included 12 (10.5 percent) who owned slaves. In New Utrecht in 1693 ten of the forty‑three household heads (23.3 percent) were slaveowners. Kings County (predominantly Dutch) had an even larger black population: 40.7 percent of white households contained slaves (129 out of 317 households) in 1698.

. . . .

In the town of Brooklyn 33.7 percent of households held slaves, 36.2 percent in Bushwick, 51.4 percent in Flatlands, 32.4 percent in Gravesend, 48.5 percent in Flatbush, and 46.3 percent in New Utrecht. Large proportions of the white population continued to use slave labor in New Utrecht: 50 percent in 1716 and 47.4 percent in 1717. The need for farm labor was great in Kings County, for in addition to the 295 slaves in the county in 1698 there were also 48 apprentices.

. . . .

In the 1830s blacks began to settle on lands in the semi‑rural outskirts of Brooklyn (present‑day Bedford Stuyvesant) in Kings County. Known as Weeksville‑Carrsville, the section contained forty property‑owning black families in 1841.57 Large settlements of impoverished former slaves lived in the towns of Jamaica and Flushing in Queens County.

Another interesting site is, which has a database of census data. In its breakdown of the population county by county in New York in 1840, there were 2,843 "free colored persons" in Kings county out of a total population of 47,613. It reports that the total number of slaves in the state that year was 4, with 3 of them in Kings county.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Deutsche Bank fire: Your public authorities at work

A Google News search for "Bovis" brings up a huge number of articles about the recent deadly fire at the Deutsche Bank building at the World Trade Center. A news search for "ESDC" brings nothing, which is odd when you think about it. The New York State Economic Development Corporation is in charge of this area.

Public authorities, which include the ESDC and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), were created to cut through the red tape that prevents development. That's all well and good, but the case of the Deutsche Bank Fire, that manifested into a disconnected water standpipe.

Public authorities have been failing to address environmental concerns in various ways in various projects. At the proposed Atlantic Yards development, where the ESDC is nominally the lead developer, the collapse of the parapet of the Wards Bakery led to promises of an Ombudsman... which never materialized. In Harlem, a judge recently ruled that there appeared to be collusion between the ESDC, AKRF and Columbia University.

The controversy over environmental oversight in the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment plan includes another aspect of what the state defines as "environment," namely historic resources. The experts hired by the EDC through its contractor AKRF came to the conclusion that the Duffield Street homes should be preserved, but the EDC ignored their advice.

These are just part of the problems of public authorities like the ESDC. An audit released in May 2006 by New York comptroller Alan Hevesi reported that the Corporation loses track of its subsidiaries and recommended that "significant improvements be made in ESDC’s recordkeeping for and control over subsidiary operations."

Firms like Bovis and AKRF are for-profit businesses accountable to their owners. They are taking advantage of a situation created by public authorities like the EDC and the ESDC. (AKRF has a tenuous connect to the Deutsche Bank fire, since its role was limited to leading the team that wrote the GEIS.)

Neither our mayor or nor governor seemed to be concerned about insuring that the public authorities serve the public.

The mayor and governor are supposed to serve the citizens. But if they are not doing their job, it is up to the citizens to force them to do the right thing.

It sounds idealistic to say that the citizens should really be in control, but what choice do we have after the Deutsche Bank fire? What choice do we have when the mayor wants to destroy the Duffield Abolitionist homes to build a parking lot?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Keystone Condemners

Oh, those big, bad government agencies that have the power to confiscate your home. Take the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), which ruled that it wants to seize 21 properties in Downtown Brooklyn. It would be a little easier to take them seriously if they could figure out from whom they are seizing the properties.

They sent a letter to Ed Atwood at 227 Duffield Street. They will have a hard time making him turn over this property, since he's dead. He was the ex-husband of Joy Chatel, and anyone who has been following this issue will know that she is the most prominent of the residents fighting the HPD's plan.

Oh, there are other little flaws in their plan. For instance, the HPD wants to destroy Track Data Corporation, a financial services company that employs 150 people. As reported by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, as of last May, the would-be condemners testified that there is no development in any planning or approval stage to replace the firm. So let's just confiscate and demolish a functioning business without any plan to replace it. That's the HPD's idea of good government!

And let's thank Bloomberg while we're at it. He announced a lovely panel to commemorate Brooklyn's Abolitionist history. The readership of this blog is limited, so it really helped us out that he spread the word far and wide about the importance of this history. He let the whole world know that celebrating this history is good for the future of Brooklyn. And then he announces his plan to destroy the best documented homes linked to the Underground Railroad.

You make our job easy, Mike! We are trying to show that the best way to promote Downtown Brooklyn is by celebrating the Abolitionist history on Duffield. We're trying to show that the City's plans are full of holes, but you do such a better job at it.

Thanks again!

City Gets Go-Ahead To Seize Duffield Homes, Financial Services Firm

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports this in "City Gets Go-Ahead To Seize Duffield Homes, Financial Services Firm":
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development ruled today that the city should use its powers of eminent domain to seize 21 properties on three blocks in Downtown Brooklyn — including several homes allegedly involved in the Underground Railroad and Track Data Corporation, a financial services firm that employs 150 people.

As earlier reported in the Eagle, the city plans to raze the Duffield Street homes to build an underground parking garage and one-acre park. Track Data is in the BAM Cultural District, and at the time of the hearing last May, a Downtown Brooklyn Partnership spokesman confirmed that there is no development in any planning or approval stage to replace the firm.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Brooklyn Star: Duffield hard to ignore

The Downtown Brooklyn Star wrote an opinion piece, which does not seem to be online. The piece was probably written after Bloomberg announced a new panel to commemorate Brooklyn Abolitionist history, and before it was revealed that Bloomberg had issued an RFP for the destruction of the Duffield Abolitionist homes.

Nevertheless, the Star sums up its position in the title "Homes on Duffield & Gold Will Be Hard for Panel to Ignore" (published 8/16/07, page 9):

It seems very unlikely this latest panel [will] come back in favor of condemning Duffield and Gold Streets. Thanks to the AKRF debacle, [the Bloomberg] administration has already lost too much credibility.

Whether Bloomberg has realized it or not, many in New York City and beyond recognize the importance of the Duffield Abolitionist homes.

Quick references to Duffield in lots of places

More and more news sources have noticed Duffield Street, and given all the developments this week, we didn't get a chance to acknowledge them. Here's a round-up:

Also, the Brooklyn Papers covers new buildings going up on other blocks of Duffield Street in "Downtown going Williamsburg." It's more proof that the destruction of the Abolitionist homes is not necessary for new economic activity.

AY Report: Errol Louis misses the point

The Atlantic Yards Report covers an Errol Louis column in Our Time Press that is not online yet. Here is a quote of Mr. Louis from "Again, Errol Louis misses the point regarding the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning":

Louis writes:
Call me cynical, but I seriously doubt that the city's money or the top-notch advisory panel named to administer it will quiet the critics of development in downtown Brooklyn. The real goal of the loudest critics is to prevent the new condos, apartments, hotels and retail stores in the area, following the misguided logic that keeping investment, amenities and new residents out of this part of Brooklyn is the best way to keep local housing prices from rising.
As usual, Norman Oder does a great job summarizing the issues.

This new column by Errol Louis suggests pretty strongly that he was the author of the only opinion piece in any paper advocating for the destruction of the Abolitionist homes. We wrote about it here and you can read the original Daily News opinion here.

Gratuitous aside: Errol Louis was a guest host on the Brian Lehrer show, and afterwards he posted a comment on the Atlantic Yards Report. Please let WNYC know if you think this is appropriate language for a moderator of a show known for its objectivity.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Brooklyn Paper: City now seeks ‘Railroad’ ties

The Brooklyn Paper just published an article which appears to have been written before it was clear that Bloomberg still intends to destroy the Duffield Abolitionist homes. The article lays out the controvery over his new panel, and it reviews some of the history of Duffield Street:

Oh the irony: After spending more than two years preparing for the demolition of Duffield Street homes that many believe were stations on the Underground Railroad, the Bloomberg Administration now says it wants to “to commemorate abolitionist activity that occurred in Brooklyn in the 1800s.”

It continues

One of the seven houses, at 227 Duffield St., belonged to Thomas and Harriet Truesdell, prominent Brooklyn Abolitionists. A number of the homes’ basements have tunnels that may have been used to help slaves escape to freedom.

For more, read see City now seeks ‘Railroad’ ties.

NY Post extoll the glories of parking on ruins of Abolitionist homes

The NY Post praises the wonderful new park which the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) would create by destroying the Duffield Abolitionist homes. See DOUBLE 'PARK'ING: B'KLYN TO GET REC SPACE WITH CAR GARAGE.

The article fails to mention the controversy over the potential Underground Railroad site. The Post also bends over backwards trying to make the small park that Bloomberg wants to build sound important. The Post compares it to Bryant Park, which is more than six times larger than Bloomberg's glorious new grassy knoll.

Here is a sample of the rhetoric:
"What we're trying to do is create a dynamic downtown, and this would be a miniature version of Bryant Park that, like Bryant Park, could offer concerts, films and displays of public art," said Joseph Chan, president of the city's Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.
The residents of Duffield Street have already turned their homes into a cultural attraction. The buildings are open for public tours on Sunday afternoons. There have been a few performances at 227 Duffield Street... but it looks like Joe Chan missed those.

It should also be noted that while providing amenities to drivers may be very important, the EDC has been tearing down parking lots to build housing, though on Duffield Street, they are tearing down someone else's homes to build parking.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

City announces RFP to destroy Duffield Abolitionist homes

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle today published "City Seeks Developer for Downtown Park, Garage", which starts:
The city officially began seeking a developer for the “Willoughby Square” park and underground garage on Monday, the same day Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $2 million project to commemorate abolitionist activity in Downtown Brooklyn.
The Abolitionist homes and the potential Underground Railroad sites would be destroyed in order to create a parking lot and grassy knoll. The project would also require the use of eminent domain to confiscate the properties, since the owners do not want to sell. The owners want to create an Abolitionist museum on the site. The article notes that HPD's decision on the Duffield homes is due next week and it continues:
The requests for proposals notes that the process of acquiring the site may increase “by approximately one year” before construction can proceed if condemnation proceedings are necessary.

When completed, city officials have said, the project would be a key component of the city’s effort to revitalize downtown, providing much-needed parking and open space to the thousands of new residents, office workers and shoppers expected to pour in as dozens of planned projects surrounding the site take shape.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Brooklyn Star: Preserving Brooklyn's Abolitionists

The Brooklyn Downtown Star reports on Bloomberg's newly announced Abolitionist panel. Unlike the NY Post or NY Times, the Brooklyn-based papers bother to pick up the phone and talk to people. Here is an excerpt from "Preserving Brooklyn's Abolitionists":

"I think it [the panel] is a good idea, but it doesn't go far enough to preserve the homes on Duffield Street," said Councilwoman Letitia James. "I applaud the administration with one hand."

James has filed a brief in support of a lawsuit filed by residents on Duffield Street to block the seizure of their homes. "I already told the administration that I will continue to advocate for the homes in the Downtown Brooklyn Plan," she said.

One of those residents is Joy Chatel, who lives at 227 Duffield Street, and first heard of the new panel when contacted for this article.

"That's absolutely horrible," she said. "Why is the local community always shut out?"

Daily Eagle: City plans to commemorate Abolitionism & to raze homes

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle today published "City Promises to Commemorate Abolitionism in Brooklyn, But Still Plans To Raze Duffield St. Homes," which is a probably the best article written on the recent developments. It summarizes some of the valuable contributions that AKRF's report brought to light:
The study, possibly the most extensive documentation of the anti-slavery movement here, noted several hotbeds of abolitionist activity in Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights, where prominent abolitionists such as Henry Ward Beecher and William Lloyd Garrison lived. Before the Civil War, the borough, then filled with farmland, also had the highest slave population in New York, and later one of the most successful self-sustaining black communities in the country, Weeksville.
The article also examined the hopes and challenges that Bloomberg's recently announced panel present:

Councilwoman Letitia James, who continues to fight against the destruction of the Duffield Street homes, said she applauds the mayor’s announcement, but “it’s a one-hand clap. They need to go further and preserve these homes.

“I think [the mayor and the Development Corporation] would like to view this as a peace treaty, but it’s not. It doesn’t go far enough,” she said.

Jim Driscoll, a member of the expert panel that reviewed the Duffield Street study who recently submitted an affidavit opposing the seizure of the Duffield Street homes, said at least one should be saved as part of the commemoration effort.

“You have to have a museum if you’re talking about tourism and people coming to see this thing. They’re simply not going to come to see a bunch of signs and a walking tour,” he said. “Basically one of the homes, like 227 Duffield St., would be perfect and that wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive like some of these museums.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Gothamist reads the Post

Gothamist published this on the Bloomberg press release. The article is mostly based on the NY Post article, and barely mentions any of the controversy over the City's plans to confiscate and demolish the Duffield Abolitionist homes.

The Gothamist is a step up from Presszoom, which reprinted the Bloomberg press release in its entirety.

Blog coverage of Bloomberg's press release

Four new blog posts about the Bloomberg press release, mostly critical.

And, just in case you were wondering, this blog will continue to advocate for the development of Downtown Brooklyn through the promotion of the Abolitionist and Underground Railroad history at 227 Duffield Street and at the neighboring properties.

Underground Railroad or Underground Rhetoric?

This Plan and collaboration that went into its development underscore the Mayor's commitment that residents should decide the future of their communities," said Deputy Mayor Doctoroff. "Downtown Brooklyn has enormous potential for further quality development and the Administration is determined to ensure that we continue to build consensus going forward so that we meet the needs and interests of everyone involved.
I discussed this quote in June, and it comes from a 2003 press release. It seems like yesterday's press release is a direct continuation of the previous rhetoric of the Bloomberg administration. It is exactly NOT what the New York Post reported:
The Underground Railroad will be officially commemorated in Brooklyn, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday.
Bloomberg said nothing about commemorating the Underground Railroad— the press release was about the Abolitionist movement. Here's what the press release said about the Underground Railroad:
an extensive research effort was completed in response to suggestions that certain houses on Duffield and Gold Streets in Downtown Brooklyn played a role in the Underground Railroad. The research did not directly connect Underground Railroad activity to the houses, but it did confirm a great deal of abolitionist activity in the area.
"Right now, Brooklyn's role in advancing abolitionism and in the Underground Railroad is practically invisible to most New Yorkers," said Councilmember David Yassky. "Today we are making a commitment to make that history more visible, so children can learn its enormously important lessons."
I am greatly encouraged by the new panel announced by Bloomberg. Unfortunately, he did not express any interest in promoting the Underground Railroad history, which seems to be closely linked to 227 Duffield and the surrounding homes.

Bloomberg has been talking about the need to work with the community in Downtown Brooklyn for four (4) years now. Even though he ignored the conclusions of AKRF's Peer Reviewers, and even though he did not consult the Duffield Street stakeholders yesterday, let's hope today is a new day.

If the NYC Economic Development Corporation remains in control, then the Duffield Street Abolitionist homes will be confiscated and destroyed to build a parking lot. If the new panel has some real power, then there is hope to develop Downtown Brooklyn through the promotiong of the Abolitionist history at 227 Duffield.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Honoring Brooklyn's Role in Ending Slavery

The New York Times covered the Bloomberg's press release regading Brooklyn's Abolitionist past. (For this blog's post on The Observer's article, click here.) Visit "Honoring Brooklyn's Role in Ending Slavery" and add comments if you wish. The author, Sewell Chan, writes:
The creation of the panel is partly a response to a controversy over six row houses on Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn. As this blog reported, local lore has long held that the houses were part of the Underground Railroad. The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which notified residents in 2004 that the city might seize the property under eminent domain to build a public park and an underground parking garage, concluded that that was not the case but residents have disputed the corporation’s study as flawed.
In the previous NYT article published June 19, Sewel Chan wrote:
Ms. Patterson [the NYC EDC Spokesperson] noted that AKRF’s research was supplemented by a 12-member peer review committee, oral histories, architectural surveys and extensive outreach. “The methodology of the research and the resulting rating are not under dispute,” she said.

My impression is that Chan was subtly undercutting Patterson because there were raging disputes about the methodology of the research. Please don't assume that the NY Times is simply reprinting EDC press releases.

A victory for Brooklyn or a new justification to demolish the Duffield Abolitionist homes?

This is not a quote from Bloomberg's press release today:
In view of the Underground Railroad’s great importance has in our nation’s history, City Planning and EDC acted immediately to investigate the claims presented at the CPC public hearing of Underground Railroad activity in the area.
This is a quote a NYC Department of City Planning press release from 2004.

The Observer reports on a new released press release (PDF) in Mayor Appeases on Underground Railroad Rancor. Here is an excerpt:

Widely Respected Panel Selected to Assist with Commemoration Project

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced plans to develop a project to commemorate abolitionist activity that occurred in Brooklyn in the 1800s. To assist in that effort, a six-member panel of noted historians, community leaders and academics has been selected to work with the City and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

"Recognizing and honoring the historic role that Brooklyn played in the abolitionist movement is a worthy endeavor, and a role we should be proud of," said Mayor Bloomberg. "It's important that as we work to bring new jobs and housing to downtown Brooklyn that we also work to ensure that the noteworthy deeds of our ancestors will not be forgotten.
The announcement is certainly a victory for those who want to promote the development of Downtown Brooklyn through the commemoration of the Abolitionist history at 227 Duffield Street and other nearby historic properties. It is a clear recognition by the Mayor that these buildings can provide an important cultural resource to the area.

It remains to be seen whether today's press release is just an excuse to tear down these properties and to build a memorial at some other location. The EDC made this suggestion at the May 1st 2007 public hearing on the historical claims surrounding the Duffield Street homes threatened with destruction by their Downtown Brooklyn plans.

There are some disturbing hints in the Mayor's press release. Most strikingly, the EDC hired a team of eminent historians to act as Peer Reviewers for the report written by AKRF and published by the EDC in March 2007. These academics worked to legitimize the AKRF report, which concluded that there was not sufficient evidence at the time to preserve the properties. The Peer Reviewers came to the conclusion that the properties should be preserved.

Today's press release announces a "Widely Respected Panel Selected to Assist with Commemoration Project," but none of the Peer Reviewers who spoke out against the EDC's conclusions were included. Apparently, their years of work on the subject mean that they are no longer "widely respected," since they disagreed with the EDC.

It is also quite curious that the Mayor did not include Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance as one of the community groups on his panel. Four Borough has been at the forefront of the initiative to advocate for Downtown Brooklyn through the promotion of the history at 227 Duffield Street and nearby properties.

The press release continues:
In connection with the City's efforts to implement the Downtown Brooklyn Plan... an extensive research effort was completed in response to suggestions that certain houses on Duffield and Gold Streets in Downtown Brooklyn played a role in the Underground Railroad. The research did not directly connect Underground Railroad activity to the houses, but it did confirm a great deal of abolitionist activity in the area. As a result, the City is seeking to develop a commemoration program that will celebrate and embrace the role that Brooklyn played in bringing an end to slavery.
AKRF did spent two years researching this history, but for serious academic research, this is just scratching the surface. And it is factually incorrect to say that this effort "was completed in response to suggestions" etc. The research was done because AKRF was caught lying. The well respected historian Dr. Cheryl LaRoche testified before the City Council that Duffield Street is the most promising site for Underground Railroad research in the country. It is wrong to characterize this as a mere "suggestion," and I hope the Mayor corrects this error.

We applaud the Mayor for moving in the right direction. We just hope it is the right direction.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Honoring Sherri Williams on her 25th birthday

On February 24, 2006, an arsonist started a fire at 1033 Pacific Street, killing four people, including Sherri Williams. To see what her street looked like soon after the murder, click here.

Today, her home has been completely fixed up, and is fully occupied. The street displays dramatic contrasts between luxury condos next to harsh poverty. For current images, click here.

Sherri Williams was an impressive young woman who was lifting herself up from a tough economic situation by working hard on her education. She was well liked by her neighbors, and she was raising her young son.

The arsonist that lit flammable materials in the first floor hallway of her building may have known this. But this murderer was probably too busy to care, since he or she started fires in a few buildings around 5 am last February 24th.

The search for this criminal is ongoing. I encourage everyone to make sure that the police don't neglect this case. Please call the 77th precinct and ask them for a status report. The Detective Squad number is 718-735-0661.

The police have not found any suspect, so it is unclear what motivated the arsonist. It could have been drugs, or covering up one of the other arson attacks. But Sherri's family thinks that it was developers.

Whatever the reasons, we wish Sherri Williams' family the best. The least we can do is to remember her senseless death.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Infrastructure breakdown- who profits?

Today the subways were a mess, but this isn't a surprise. At least we're not Minneapolis, or at least it's not the ConEd explosion or a mine collapse.

While New York City is suffering from an ailing electrical and sewer infrastructure, we are on a building boom. Somehow, it's the priority to build endless luxury highrises and not fix potholes. How is this done?

For all of the megaprojects going up, one firm is responsible for most of the environmental studies: AKRF. This blog focuses on the Duffield Street homes, and we are committed to examining the credibility of AKRF's historical analysis.

You may ask, Who cares if AKRF screws up a historical analysis? The problem is that "historical resources" fall under the scope of environmental analysis, just like air pollution and waste water. So if AKRF lacks credibility in its historical analysis of Duffield, this raises questions about its traffic analysis.

And guess what? AKRF has been challenged in these other areas as well. So in honor of today's subway delays, here is a roundup of the links of shame:

In Red Hook, AKRF helped IKEA in their plans to destroy the historic graving dock. So instead of finding creative new uses for a potentially important historical attraction, IKEA will build... a parking lot. What a surprise.

Is AKRF coming out of the shadows?

Yesterday The Observer published an article on AKRF, "The Enviro-Consultants Everyone Calls."
AKRF now employs a staff of 240 in five locations along the Eastern Seaboard and evaluates, by its own estimates, the majority of public projects in New York City and a number of the private ones as well.

AKRF has become so ubiquitous that this low-key firm, headquartered on Park Avenue South, is no longer as invisible as it would like to be. In May, a handful of City Council members attacked the firm at a public session when it failed to find evidence that a downtown Brooklyn street was once on the Underground Railroad. In June, a state judge suggested that AKRF had a conflict of interest because it was working simultaneously for both Columbia University and the state agency overseeing the school’s expansion into West Harlem.
AKRF was chosen by the NYC Economic Development Corporation without competitive bid to analyze the historical claims of Abolitionist and Underground Railroad activity in Downtown Brooklyn. Our public authorities may give AKRF a free pass, but hopefully the citizens will not.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Pro-construction, Pro-Abolitionist Homes

What can DDDb and the Carpenter's Union agree on? The two groups are vocally opposed to each other on the Atlantic Yards debate, but the pro-Ratner and anti-Ratner activists find common ground on Duffield Street. One side stridently advocates for transparency, the other for jobs, and both oppose the NYC Economic Development Corporation's plans for Duffield Street.

Here's a video of the June 2007 union rally on Duffield Street. 227 Duffield, home of prominent Abolitionists, can be seen behind William Cotton and Peter Abbate:

Incidently, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke has written a letter in support of the protection of the Abolitionist homes. Anthony Pugliese showed his support by attending the June 19th press conference at 227 Duffield.

Here is a link to a pro-union website opposed to the Sheraton hotels on Duffield Street. The focus of these construction advocates' ire is that the Duffield Sheraton hotels are being built with non-union labor.

There are various reasons the unions would support the promotion of the Abolitionist homes on Duffield. One could argue that the EDC's proposed parking lot is really a free taxpayer gift to the non-union hotels. The EDC is saving Sheraton a ton of money, because instead of building their own parking lot, the taxpayers will pay for it.

Of course, some people get to pay more for gift of parking. The EDC want to force the owners and residents of Duffield to pay with their homes and businesses.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Condo buyers mouth off- the EDC should listen asks:
Since sales started last Fall, roughly a hundred buyers have dialed in to buy a place at the former New York Telephone Company building at 101 Willoughby Street that's better known in real estate circles these days as the Belltel Lofts.... Any readers out there who're in contract here? What sealed the deal for you?

The responses, as with most boards, were all over the map. Here are two opposing views:

There is a nice atmosphere of Art Deco and the history of the building is a positive. But that's where the positives ended for me....

The area is horrendous and if you think it will change by the time you move in, keep dreaming. This area has been a rundown dump for years and only now being cleaned up with CITY money. The private developers would not be here if the city wasn't giving tax breaks and so on.
You could say that part of the incentives that the City could give would be destroying old homes to spruce up the neighborhood. Or maybe not- here's what another reader said:

Even if developers tore down everything around you and built new (which they seem to be doing), you're not going to get a great neighborhood rich in character or architectural interest--you're going to get a mini Houston or, worse, MetroTech part II.

Sorry, but Belltel will end up being wedged between a bland and deserted office park (the awful MetroTech) and a bland and generic strip mall (what Fulton Mall is fast becoming).

So if the EDC wants to attract buyers like these, they are better off keeping the Duffield Street homes, and turning it into another "generic strip mall." This is today's example of how the EDC's planned use of eminent domain is either unnecessary or ill-advised.

Much more about the Ingersoll houses

There has been tons of discussion going on at regarding the Ingersoll/Whitman houses. Here's how their recent article starts:
While there was lots of interesting information about some of the more upscale developments in the borough at yesterday's quarterly luncheon for real estate bigwigs at the Brooklyn Historical Society, we were most struck by a comment made in passing about the future of the Ingersoll and Whitman Houses, the massive housing projects between Park and Myrtle in Fort Greene. There have been rumors for a few years about the low-income residents being pushed out to clear the way for conversion of the buildings into co-ops.

The discussion was picked up in mcbrooklyn, NY Magazine and the Real Estate King. While it's pretty unclear what is going on at the Fort Greene houses, the general trend is clear: many long-term residents of Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene are either being pushed out or feel that they are being pushed out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Alien Ship Officially Set for Liftoff on Flatbush Avenue

Curbed reports on one of the new buildings going up just a few blocks from the Duffield Street Abolitionist homes:
When a building can be described as "the lovechild of the Flatiron Building and a spaceship," you know the dream is too big to die. And indeed, finally, architect Ismael Leyva's 21-story luxury condo plan at 85 Flatbush Avenue between Tillary and Duffield Streets has been approved.
Comments on Curbed range from the approving to the ironic:
George Jetson is in contract for the penthouse.
This is today's reminder that people are plowing forward with all sorts of construction in the Downtown Brooklyn environs. Eminent domain to destroy to historic Duffield Street homes is not necessary to encourage development.