Friday, May 18, 2012

City's Field of Bad Dreams at Willets Point

The Politicer's Matt Chabon has an insightful look at the administration's failure of imagination at Willets Point-and how the latest iteration is simply throwing good money after bad. He begins by citing a comment by a reader-someone who really gets how bad the new mall concept really is:

"What a horrible idea. A parking lot and a mall? That neighborhood is a mess already, though. Just a few hundred feet from the bay in one direction and Flushing Meadows in the other, and they’re both nearly impossible to access. It should be a wonderful spot to hang out before a ballgame, and instead it’s just a tangle of highways. Thank you, Robert Moses."

Chabon wonders why the mayor is going for another auto-dependent mall on the site-and misconstrues the fact that almost all economic development in the past ten years has been of the same cookie cutter variety-thanks to the role of Related:

"This is still a dense area, one well-served by mass-transit, one begging for improvement. The proposal for two huge malls actually makes the original plan conceived by the mayor five years ago, to build an actual neighborhood here, look even more impressive than it already did. Something new, with plenty of jobs and affordable housing, maybe even a convention center.Now, instead, Queens is getting more suburban development, when it deserves better. As our reader points out, wouldn’t it be nice to extend the park all the way up, doubling it in size? Here is a place where capping some railyards would make sense—push the development to the edges, and open up the rest. Madison Square Garden has no parking, and it gets along fine."

It's hard to imagine anything worse than the original plan-one whose density would have chocked the area's roads and highways-but the new plan does just that. It keeps all of the original's worst features and eliminates what at least had some interesting features-housing and a convention center are to some extents understandable, but another mall?

What a mess-and the cost of remediating this area is still daunting: "There is the added advantage that the expense of remediation and infrastructure to build up Willets Point to where it needs to be—it’s seven feet below the flood plane in some places—would be considerably cheaper were it to be turned into a park rather than streets and homes and shopping malls. Instead, we sell it off to the highest bidder, and do their bidding at that, so that the development might commence cost-free."

But it never is cost free and the tax payers always end up subsidizing the aftermath when the area becomes impassable and shoppers and residents complain. (Remember Rego Center?)

The lesson here is that Willets Point needs to be treated totally differently from the way this administration does economic development-something that's outside of the little box of the current geniuses. But any plan that does go forward should not be at the expense of those who own the property-they should be partners and not patsies.