Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Critiquing the Bloomberg Megadevelopment Model

From the Great Minds Think Alike Department comes this Op-ed from the NY Daily News by Stephen Smith, a contributor to Forbes magazine:

Let smaller players redevelop Willets Points: The top-down model isn't good for New York

This is sound advice-and mirrors what we have already said: "In the first place there is no reason why redevelopment must occur over the dead bodies of the property owners. Why can't the public sector partner with the owners in a joint venture that doesn't involve taking private property and handing it over to another private interest?"

Smith is on to something-and he rightly sees the Bloomberg mega-model as flawed: "Willets Point needs to be redeveloped, desperately. But not this way. Instead, the city should start over — and allow the neighborhood to be built as the borough’s best neighborhoods were built a century ago: by many small developers, marketed locally and according to need and financial reality. The current Willets Point proposal follows the usual pattern of controversial Bloomberg-era megaprojects like Atlantic Yards and Columbia’s Manhattanville plan: The city identifies a tract of ailing and poorly zoned buildings, then allows huge developers to build something that the original owners were forbidden from doing by zoning."

What the current administration has demonstrated at Willets Point is that the top down approach is not only morally wrong-it uses condemnation to take away property and hand it over to favored cronies-it is also unworkable. And the new malling plans make no sense since the city's crying need is not for more malls but, as Smith points out, for more housing:

"A bottom-up vision would work far better, and may even yield affordable housing without the handouts that a luxury builder like Related needs. The demand for new housing at Willets Point, no doubt, is there. Communities along the 7 train have been experiencing huge waves of immigration in recent years as Asians and Latin Americans stream into older, built-out neighborhoods, and there is a real need for new development."

The problem is that the current development regime at EDC is compulsively top down in its approach-how else to dole out favors and pave the way for future employment in the private sector? But Smith's advice makes good sense-unfortunately because it does it is unlikely to be heeded. This means that we should anticipate a full blown fight over the new iteration of the city's plan-something that is as wrongheaded and poorly designed as the originally designed monstrosity for the Iron Triangle.