Ratner and the Gentry

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The New York Sun

The Crain’s New York Business article reporting on a poll the weekly commissioned purporting to show that 60% of New Yorkers support developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project carried a line that made us smile. “Just 29% express misgivings when told that the project, which includes a 62-story office tower, is out of scale with the neighborhood and will promote gentrification,” Crain’s says.

Well, if Mr. Ratner’s project, which also includes a Nets arena and apartments, would indeed promote gentrification — by which we mean a rise in property values, a decrease in crime, better shopping, and finer dining — we’d be for it. In the perverse logic of New York development politics, however, Mr. Ratner has been reduced to advocating for his project on the grounds that it would turn back gentrification.

“The developer and the Coalition will cooperate to include long-term affordable housing in the residential portion of the project in order to stem the growing trend of displacement through gentrification in Brooklyn,” says a 69-page “community benefits agreement” signed on June 27, 2005, by Mr. Ratner, Mayor Bloomberg, and some of the hardiest racial and economic agitators in this city, including Bertha Lewis of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and Rev. Herbert Daughtry of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance.

In a sense, Mr. Ratner is in a pickle of his own creation. He wants government subsidies and eminent domain condemnation power, so he needs to provide some public “benefits.” In the upside-down world of New York City, stemming gentrification — meaning stemming a rise in property values, a decrease in crime, better shopping, and finer dining — counts as a public benefit. By our lights, the most logical of the Ratner critics fear that the high percentage of the project that is to be devoted to “affordable” — that is, outside the normal free market — housing, combined with the shadows cast by the huge towers, will lead not to gentrification but to a reversal of the improvements already underway in Brooklyn.

The direction in which this is going is clear from an article in Tuesday’s New York Times suggesting that Mr. Ratner is going to modify the project by reducing “luxury” — i.e., free-market — housing, but keeping all the “affordable” units while — and here’s the kicker — seeking “additional subsidies for that part of the development.” While this is a complex project, we find it encouraging that Mr. Ratner wants to build in Brooklyn, and we aren’t afraid of density in development that takes place on a free-market basis. But when a developer and pollster are reduced to claiming that the same project will both “stem” and “promote” gentrification, it is a good indication that something is missing — and we have little doubt that it will be money from the taxpayers’ wallet.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ratner is carpeting the county of Kings with mailings claiming “The New York Times, Daily News & New York Post agree: Atlantic Yards is good for Brooklyn.” A subsidized apartment for the reader who can figure out which newspapers are for the project because it would promote gentrification, and which are for it because it would stem it.

The New York Sun

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