Welcome to Bono’s Borough?by Theodore Hamm
A sure sign that a neighborhood is over is when its real estate starts to be marketed to “rock stars” seeking to “avoid the paparazzi.” Such is currently the case with the monstrous condos being built over McCarren Park in Greenpoint. There, according to the telephone booth ad on Bedford, one will have “gated private parking,” presumably for one’s limo. With McCarren Pool fast becoming a large-scale concert venue for a Clear Channel spin-off, on some occasions a lucky rock star may only need to be driven across the street. Forget community, it’s time to lay out the red carpet for real royalty.
Many neighborhoods surrounding Prospect Heights will be irrevocably altered by Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project, should it continue forward in its current design. Here the appeals are currently being made in the name of “community,” and not yet to the royalty who would occupy most of the soaring condos. As Paul Goldberger summarizes the project in the current issue of Metropolis, “In downtown Brooklyn a single developer is now proposing an enormous complex of multiple towers, shops, and public space around the centerpiece of a sports arena, and he is trying to present it—like so many megaprojects today—as not just an effort at economic development but an enabler of a fine-grained urban life.” In less fine-grained terms, the delirious Frank Gehry said the project will create a “neighborhood from scratch,” in an area where there are “lots of ugly buildings” (many of them built by Bruce Ratner!). The Municipal Art Society has a more sober conclusion: “Forest City Ratner’s current plan won’t work for Brooklyn.”
And so the fights will continue in the name of actually existing, livable neighborhoods that can handle sensible, compatible development. The obstacles are many, not least the insults that one may endure from those in power. Senator Schumer will say you belong to the “culture of inertia,” and Ratner’s spokesmen will call you “unpatriotic.” But it may help to remember the words of none other than Mayor Bloomberg, who’s never met a megaproject he didn’t like. Last year, as he explained that while he indeed is a supporter of projects on the scale of Ikea in Red Hook, he added, “But I think if I lived there, I don’t know whether I would be, quite honestly.” Just as honestly, it’s up to those of us who actually live in Brooklyn to shape its destiny: as either a place that caters to rock stars and luxury towers or one that nurtures sustainable communities.