Support progress—reject the Downtown Plan

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

If only the advertised conclusion was true.

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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