Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project
Monday, October 03, 2005
So far, everything that Bruce Ratner’s attempted to sell his Atlantic Yards project to a suspicious, fed-up-with-wealthy-developers public has failed.See the Archives for more...
* “Look, I bought the Nets! I’m bringing sports back to Brooklyn!” Yeah, well, we’ve gotten on for nearly 50 years without a major league sports team just fine. Fact is, we’ve spent our spare time rebuilding Brooklyn after the Great White Flight in the ‘50s and ‘60s. When we need sports, we root for one of the ten major-league teams in our area, or play a game ourselves.
* “Look, look! I’ve got Frank Gehry designing the buildings!” Right now, Frank Gehry’s a laughingstock in Brooklyn. Forest City Ratner’s most recent renderings of Gehry’s Batman Gotham skyscraper-scape turned a lot of Brooklynites against the project.
* “I love Brooklyn!” Ratner lives in a fancy building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and only come to Brooklyn for his job.
* “Hey, everyone, I hired basketball legend Bernard King, who grew up in Brooklyn, to tout the project!” Right. A guy for whom Brooklyn is so beloved that he prefers to live in Atlanta. A guy who also likes beating up his wife. How’s that Bernard King spokesmanship working out for you, Bruce?
* “Have you seen my bonafide civil-rights-marchin’ reverend, Herbert Daughtry? He loves the project!” Maybe that’s because the Reverend Daughtry lives in Teaneck, New Jersey, far from ten-plus years of construction, pollution, shadows, traffic-jams, crowded subway platforms and box stores that would choke Brooklyn to death. That’s okay...Ratner’s skyscraping city is so big, maybe the Reverend D can see it from the top floor of his home far across the Hudson.
* “Hey, Brooklyn poor people! I’m gonna give you 10,000 jobs to fill! Ten thousand!!!” Yeah, well, that was before the fiscal realities bit Ratner hard. The number’s down to 3,900, based on FCR’s current environmental scoping document. On top of that, few of these jobs will go to local residents -- they’re already filled by office workers in midtown and lower Manhattan, the latter being Sheldon Silver’s district.
* “50% of all the housing is going to poor people in the immediate neighborhood, yessiree!” Well, the number’s more like 18%. That’s how much will be affordable for people making the median income in the areas surrounding the development. There will be no affordable units for sale, either. For Ratner, ownership is only for the wealthy, like himself.
* “My best buds are community groups like BUILD! They love me, yes they do!” Well, for the $5 million dollars you’ve earmarked for their coffers, surely they do. Their officers are all scheduled to make annual salaries of over $100,000 each, and one of ‘em’s driving around in a sparkling new silver Cadillac.
* “I’ve bought everyone out at terrifically generous prices, so no need for that pesky eminent domain!” Uh, except for the dozens who didn’t take Bruce’s blood-money and have stood up to his eminent domain threats. With new laws being drawn up to prevent the confiscation of people’s properties for a private developer’s profit-rich projects, and a Supreme Court decision that says such confiscations must be corruption free, Ratner’s a long way away from getting that first shovel into the ground.
* “Dude, the MTA sold me the Vanderbilt Yards! I’m sky-high now!!” Except for the part where there will be court cases, judicial reviews and investor-frightening delays that prevent the fast and shady taking of a huge parcel of taxpayer-owned land for Ratner’s stoop-sale offer.
* “Hey, you like my free mailers? Sure I’m flooding your mailboxes, Brooklyn, but there’s a free prize if you mail in the coupon!” There’s also the likelihood Ratner violated state gaming laws with his giveaway. On top of that, the return on Ratner’s coupons was abysmally miniscule. The prize -- free New Jersey Nets tickets -- continues to go wanting.
Which brings us to the October 3, 2005 guest op-ed by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz in the New York Daily News. ()
“The day Brooklyn conquered the World (Series),” screams the headline. There’s a photo of Dodger pitcher Johnny Podres being mobbed by teammates after the last out of the 1955 World Series, Brooklyn’s only ever baseball championship. October 4th, is the 50th anniversary of the big win.
Markowitz is using the anniversary in his usual misbegotten, ill-informed, mouth-foaming, exploitive and insulting manner to sell the Ratner project.
Let’s be clear about one thing before we go any further: Marty Markowitz is to Brooklyn culture what the Lucky Charms leprechaun is to Irish culture. A sad caricature that promulgates and reinforces the worst stereotypes about Brooklyn.
Markowitz believes Bruce Ratner is Brooklyn’s Moses parting the seas to bring the borough into the 21st century. Marty’s confusing the biblical Moses for the 20th Century Parks Department Moses – Robert Moses. Marty, you know, gets all goofy when he’s gone too long without a parade or a slice of Junior’s cheesecake to fortify him.
Marty still thinks that the predominant accent in our borough is what every black-and-white WWII film’s wise-crackin’ Brooklyn guy -- usually called “Brooklyn” -- sounded like. (There’s a reason “Brooklyn” usually got killed off about halfway through the film -- ‘cause he was as annoying as Markowitz.) The beauty of Brooklyn today is that there is no Brooklyn accent. Rather, Brooklynites sound like they’re from Russia, Jamaica, West Africa, Mexico, China, and so on. The Brooklyn accent changes with every soul you pass on the street.
Marty kicks off his op-ed by melding cliché Brooklynese of the past with the Modern American Book-Report dialect every junior high student employs:
“It was 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 1956 -- 50 years ago tomorrow -- when the world stopped in Brooklyn. Dem Bums, our beloved Flock from Flatbush, had finally vanquished the Goliath from Da Bronx that shall go unnamedâ?|” You get the sense of it. The rest of the run-on sentence is still running on somewhere, maybe putting as much distance between it and Marty as it can.
Markowitz goes on to evoke Brooklyn Of The Past. What’s sad is how much of those legends are either gone and Marty doesn’t know it, or are endangered right here, right now on Markowitz’s watch. He mentions the Coney Island Cyclone, for instance. The Cyclone may, in fact, be bought and torn down, replaced or relocated by Thor Equities, the Ratner-esque company that is hoping -- with Markowitz’s tacit approval -- to replace Coney Island’s old time charm and Brooklyn raggedness with gleaming Vegas hotels, waterslides and shopping malls. Way to safeguard Brooklyn’s heritage, Marty.
Regaling us with tales of Brooklyn’s into-the-night celebrations that fateful October evening fifty years ago, Markowitz writes “Even as a 10-year-old boy I knew what to say: Fugheddaboudit!” It’s not what you’d call comforting that Marty lords over the nation’s fourth-largest city with the same gumball naiveté of that cliché-spouting ten-year-old boy.
Marty tries his hand at socio-political urban anthropological analysis, writing that the Dodgers’ 1955 victory “proved that nothing bonds people of diverse backgrounds more than shared pride for a sports team.”
Um-hmm. Sure, everyone shook their groove thang, from Humboldt down to Stillwell, Bay Ridge to Canarsie, that fine day a half-century ago. Then, the next day, Brooklyn got right back to its generation-long implosion -- white people resumed their Great Flight to the suburbs, the city got back to warehousing poor people into Robert Moses’ massive housing developments, jobs continued disappearing, and the Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, himself growing scared of a borough turning blacker, resumed chasing his pot of gold somewhere else.
In other words, people dug the Brooklyn Dodgers’ win for a brief moment in time, then got back to either turning their back on Brooklyn or staying and trying to survive a disintegrating way of life.
What has actually bound Brooklynites of diverse backgrounds is the work they themselves have done to rebuild Brooklyn lo these last three decades. That, not a sports team, is what has brought Brooklynites together.
And now here’s Marty, championing Bruce Ratner’s racially-divisive 20-skyscraper/one arena colossus. Not counting the Crown Heights riots, Ratner’s project has done more to split Brooklyn than anything in a generation. Bringing the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn will do nothing for the borough..only leave pain and mistrust in its wake..
Here’s where Markowitz plays fast, loose and revisionist with the Brooklyn of his youth. Back then, just about anyone could afford seats to Ebbets Field. The team’s roster remained mostly unchanged from season to season. The players lived in the borough, and kids and fans alike knew the players.
The Nets, if they ever make it to Brooklyn -- and they’re still a potentially-lethal mix of financing woes, legal challenges, disappearing support and Ratnerian hubris and arrogance away -- will be nothing of the sort.
Zillionaire players will never deign to walk Brooklyn’s streets except for the kind of p.r. stunts Ratner pushed Bernard King into staging with small Black children being festooned with FCR swag; tickets for Nets games will be unaffordable, except for a smattering of seats so far away you might as well watch from the Rev. Daughtry’s living room in Teaneck; and like any other NBA arena, most of the crowd will be white fans with money.
Markowitz writes that the departure of the Dodgers for “La-La Land” (Marty, he’s such a card) was “symptomatic of the decline in many American urban centers in decades to come.”
First, it only had anything to do -- symptomatically or in actual fact -- with Brooklyn, and second, it was symptomatic of a greedy sports team owner who tried to shake down taxpayers, didn’t get it, and took a an immoral offer of free land cleared of an entire community of Mexican immigrants and a virgin major league market on the West Coast instead.
In other words, Walter O’Malley and Bruce Ratner are very, very similar beasts. Whether you’re taking a team away or bringing one in, if you operate at the public’s detriment, you’re running the same con game.
But moreover, the decline had little to do with the Dodgers leaving. Rather, it was New York trying to survive urban blight, ineffective government, the first creep of globalization, and a forthright decision to change the city’s entire economic base from manufacturing (which provided jobs, kept neighborhoods healthy, offered hope of advancement, and made use of one of the world’s great natural ports) to being a service-sector economy for Big Biz (which slashed jobs, caused secondary and tertiary businesses that supported the manufacturers to dry up, followed quickly by the neighborhoods themselves going fallow).
The very first trick Bruce Ratner attempted to shine a gorgeous, if fake, light on his Atlantic Yards juggernaut was to purchase the New Jersey Nets and use them to grease the skids for his hoped-for skyscrapers. That he got the Nets for a sucker’s price of $300 million shows both how unsavvy Ratner is as a sports owner, and how much money at his disposal to grease future skids (see BUILD, above).
Markowitz goes on to highlight this analysis of the borough he’s supposed to know more about than anyone: “I know what unites us: religion, music, family and sports. We have plenty of the first three here in Brooklyn.” He then states that the fourth can be satisfied only by a “national sports team.”
Okay, first, there’s no such thing as a “national sports team,” unless it’s, well, a national sports team -- The U.S. soccer team, U.S. basketball team, U.S. pentathlon team. Markowitz is just being grandiose, uninformed and kinda dopey here.
Second, and far worse, he’s insulting millions of Brooklynites, who a) have heartfelt devotions to existing local teams, b) play on scholastic, youth-league, collegiate, amateur or semi-pro teams in the five boroughs, or c) pro sports franchises including the Brooklyn Cyclones (men’s baseball), the Brooklyn Kings (men’s basketball) or the Brooklyn Sharks (women’s football).
It’s sad that the stars in Markowitz’s eyes have blinded him to this rich tapestry of Brooklyn athletics. Markowitz has spent two years cheerleading for Ratner’s Nets -- time and energy that should have been spent campaigning for funding for youth athletic facilities, programs and publicity for the borough’s millions of athletes of every stripe. Markowitz has forsaken real Brooklyn athletes in order to drool over a dozen millionaires who aren’t from here, won’t live here, and won’t spend here.
Is that what you want from your borough president, Brooklyn?
Markowitz’s grasp of basketball itself is sad. He suggests that the Nets’ own October 4th might be a Jason Kidd steal and dunk to win a playoff game. That’s dopey because:
* October 4th was a championship clinching. Winning a “playoff game” is just one tiny step in the NBA”s dull and stultifying marathon known as “The Playoffs”;
* At this rate, the Nets won’t, well, ever be in Brooklyn. If they do make it, the earliest games at the corporately named arena (more money to Ratner, not you, Brooklyn) will be in October 2009. Kidd will be 36 years old, and no one in the NBA expects him and his creeky kness to still be playing;
* Kidd never dunks -- if he goes in for an uncontested shot, it’s a simple, unadorned lay-up.
I go into great detail just to give you the full understanding of why this little cabal of Markowitz and Ratner, who know little and less about basketball and who adorned a glossy flyer with a stock photos of a “Brooklyn construction worker” wearing what is actually a Boston Red Sox cap, is so self-serving and dangerous for our borough.
Still, this is what Ratner and Markowitz do -- they trot out know-nothing remarks with no basis in reality. Once you examine them, don’t even sound very good. Until you fight back, they’re playing you for a fool.
Bringing this missive to a close, here’s what Markowitz and Ratner will never grasp: Brooklyn doesn’t need the Nets. Nor is Brooklyn even excited about the Nets. There’s no groundswell of anticipation on the streets, in the bars, at home or at the workplaces of our borough. No one’s doing a thriving trade in bootleg “Brooklyn Nets” t-shirts.
What we do care about is truly affordable housing (which Ratner won’t provide), real job opportunities (ditto), and the fabric we’ve woven all by ourselves -- the beauty that has developed without Ratner’s help during the ‘60s and ‘70s, when folks who stayed here committed to rebuilding their communities, their lives, and their borough. Few in Brooklyn at the time gave the Dodgers a passing thought. They had bigger worries.
By setting to work on those worries, they made Brooklyn the grand place it is today. A place safe enough for Bruce Rather to think he can recast in his own bloated, imperious image.
As go sports, there’s plenty here now. You want basketball? Check out PSAL, CHSAA and PAL leagues, or LIU right there in downtown Brooklyn. You want the sports of today’s immigrant communities in Brooklyn? There’s cricket and soccer throughout the borough every nice day of the year.
“Maybe the ghosts of Ebbets Field will be lifted” Markowitz goes all mystical with that last line.
Tell you what...the ghosts of Ebbets Field will be free of their earthly chains the moment Bruce Ratner and Marty Markowitz are soundly defeated and these Brigands of Arrogance are cast out of our lives, restoring to their rightful place in Brooklyn’s storied pantheon all the small-timers, kooks, eccentrics, workers, players, kids, old folks, immigrants, regular Joes and Josephines that are perfectly happy living alongside Ebbets’ spectral guardians.
What could possibly give Ratner and Markowitz the idea that the Ghosts of Ebbets Field want the Atlantic Yards project?