Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Urban Planners Critique Willets Point Plan

Last week in the NY Daily News, three urban planners offered a blistering critique of the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to destroy Flushing Meadows Park-and the administration’s entire approach to economic development:
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is Queens’ crown jewel. But the busiest park in the borough is threatened on all sides… Recently, the tennis center was given another acre of the park. Then the Related Companies announced they wanted to build a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping mall and parking garage on the parkland-turned-parking-lot next to Citi Field. (The land is supposed to revert to recreational use now that it’s no longer needed by the Mets.)
Next, Major League Soccer set its sights on 13 acres of the park just past the huge silver globe called the Unisphere. Observers expect they’ll ask for stadium-size tax breaks, too. The plan would bulldoze the famous Fountain of Planets. Ironically, that area already hosts some of the 1,500 soccer games played in the park each summer—but they’re just teams of regular New Yorkers, not leagues owned by well-connected investors.” 

What’s clear is that the immigrant communities who are using the park are not high up on the mayor’s list of important people-and immigrants are only useful to him when he can use them as symbolic props for his vaunted immigration proposals.

But what the three professors take real issue with is how the economic development plan for the mall is emblematic of the way in which the Bloomberg administration approaches job creation in exactly the wrong way:
These proposals are classic examples of the most troubling legacy of the Bloomberg administration’s approach to economic development. The city has approved dozens of real estate mega-projects on city- or state-owned land, or on property where the city has changed zoning rules to suit developers. They all promised “economic development,” but haven’t increased employment or reduced poverty.”

And, of course, the “historic” deal on living wage is still historic-if being relegated to the dustbin of history can be characterized that way. The original agreement negotiated to gain the city council’s approval in 2008, is now an artifact since the living wage was excluded from the RFP for the current development.
The professors recognize this deficiency-although perhaps not realizing that the living wage was originally included in the Willets Point development:
If the city decides to continue offering subsidies to big-name deals, the next administration should make sure those subsidies include local hiring and wage requirements. Already, dozens of municipalities, from Los Angeles to Minneapolis to Washington, make sure their tax subsidies support projects that create living-wage jobs for city residents.”
When seen in this light, what’s apparent is that the Bloomberg economic development model is simply the aggrandizement of Big Real Estate-with little apparent benefit for the people who are looking for good jobs:
The next mayor should also focus on industries that build the middle class. Instead of letting hotels and superstores encroach on manufacturing zones while providing low-wage and part-time jobs, the city should study the success of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and develop partnerships in industrial zones like Hunts Point or the Brooklyn Army Terminal to create better jobs.”

Given all of the deficiencies in the Willets Point economic development model, the three urban planners see little choice as to what the planning commission and the council should do with the proposed plans. They deserve the last word:
With the next mayoral election just four months away, the candidates and other elected officials should stand up for good public space and smart economic development. That means opposing the projects in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
It looks like community action will head off one of them, telling the soccer league to build their stadium somewhere other than a busy park. The City Planning Commission votes on another plan, the shopping mall and parking garage that targets land next to Citi Field, in just a few weeks. Voting “no” and bringing this land back to Flushing Meadows would mean parkland within walking distance for another 25,000 residents.
If we can’t all spend our summers at garden parties like Gatsby, we at least need the green of a great city park.”