In Need of Some Restraint
We’ve previously discussed the enormous scale of this project. Rather than an outgrowth of a rational planning process, it seems to us now that the project has developed as a collection of wish lists, assembled for maximum political support and financial gain: Affordable housing? We can do that. An arena? Not a problem, we’ll recoup our costs in other parts of the project. Market-rate housing? Check. Retail, office space, parking? We’ll do all that too - big time - and more! The best project EVER! By providing something for everyone, the project has ballooned into an enormous delirious wish list of desires; there is no push-back.
What's the point of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the enormous study developed by the same group of not disinterested individuals who are promoting the real estate development scheme for the site? The reasons for the project are neatly developed in the Executive Summary: “The overarching goal of the proposed project is to transform a blighted area into a vibrant mixed-use community, incorporating principles of environmental sustainability”. And then, after conceding that there would be “significant adverse impacts” “in areas such as schools, cultural resources, shadows, traffic, transit and pedestrians, and noise”, the authors opine: “notwithstanding these impacts, the proposed project is expected to achieve the long-term State and City goals of 1) enhancing the vitality of the Atlantic Terminal area; 2) providing substantial new housing, including much needed affordable housing; and 3) improving railroad facilities and pedestrian access to Brooklyn’s largest transit hub”. There you have it, in a nutshell, the project’s purpose is to achieve goals 1, 2, and 3. Nothing more or nothing less. These long-term State and City goals are the only justification for the project. So as it turns out, there is no real need to read past the first page, because it’s just full of problems that ultimately don’t really matter as long as the “goals” are achieved.
But while we can all agree that these are worthwhile goals, we still have a nagging question: is this the only way of achieving them? If that’s too high a bar, is this the best way of achieving them? One of the best ways? Or, at the very least, if there is a range of possible projects that could achieve the goals, are the down-side trade-offs inherent in this particular configuration worthwhile?The language of the EIS is not helpful here. It claims only that, notwithstanding the many significant adverse impacts in the full range of issues studied, the proposed project is expected to achieve the goals.
The Daily News, in an editorial last week, suggested that critics of the development should not be scouring the DEIS for ways of helping fight the eminent domain case. This got us thinking about the language throughout the document, and the logic behind it. What if the proposed configuration is not, in fact, one of the best ways of providing a vibrant mixed-use community, is not one the most cost effective ways, and the down-side risks are not manageable? Alternatives are ruled out in the DEIS by tautologies such as this: “The Reduced Density – No Arena Alternative would not provide the economic, entertainment, and cultural benefits of an arena. Therefore, the Reduced Density – No Arena Alternative would fail to meet many of the project’s goals” (P. 20-2). You can’t make this stuff up. Now the project goal is to build an arena on this site, so any alternative plan is, by definition, unacceptable. This position - that although there will be unmitigatable significant adverse impacts, the project will still achieve some shared “goals” so it’s OK - does seem to us to be more of a defense of the taking of property by eminent domain than a reasonable defense of this particular project configuration.
Before we put shovels to the ground, let’s take the big view. In the final analysis, a mountain of wish lists from individual pressure groups and politicians does not a project plan make. It is not the design team’s role to edit this colossal heap of desires. Urban planners, transportation planners, financial planners and public policy advocates should study the full range of options, including alternative sites for all program components, in full daylight, for real public review and input. Because the DEIS does not recognize that sometimes the wrong we do is just from trying to do too much.