Dear Mr. Sharples, Mr. Sharples, Ms. Sharples, Ms. Holden, and Mr. Pasquarelli:
We understand that your practice has been recognized widely as one of the most
promising and innovative young architecture firms in New York, as well as in
the United States. It is clear that you all have a real commitment to furthering
your profession through your innovative approach to practice as well as through
your teaching. Thus we are writing this letter of concern in response to last
week's announcement that you have joined Forest City Ratner's project team for
the Atlantic Yards development proposal.
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn
is one of scores of community organizations, neighborhood associations, housing
organizations, civic organizations and good government groups that oppose Forest
City Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal and have fought against it for six years.
We have led this movement while advocating for democratic, appropriate, community-based
development over the 9-acre Vanderbilt Rail Yard, which we
firmly wish to see developed. DDDB is a truly grassroots organization, funded
entirely by our more than 4,500 individual donors who have sustained our efforts
over the years.
last week on his de.Sign blog, after your new Barclays Center renderings
were unveiled, one of your colleagues, Viren Brahmbhatt, responded to the ever-changing
Atlantic Yards designs and Nicolai Ouroussoff's "lopsided critiques."
Calling it "tragic" he bemoaned the tendency of architecture critics
to "sing praises of architects rather than focusing on issues concerning
architecture and urban design…There are many unanswered questions about the
proposals for this [Atlantic Yards] site including the absence of a plan - infrastructure
planning and who is paying for it along with other costs that the taxpayers
are presumed to bear."
Justin Davidison puts it
far more bluntly, and allows no excuses, in this week’s New York
magazine where he writes, “Atlantic Yards is too far gone to be rescued
by a nice façade."
We hope that you are aware that by accepting the Barclays Center commission
from Forest City Ratner you have involved your firm in a very contentious and
troubled project that faces widespread resistance from the communities it would
impact—and well beyond—for the reasons Mr. Brahmbhatt identifies among dozens
Every local elected official from the project area, as well as the surrounding
neighborhoods, is either opposed to the project or have deep concerns about
it. Twelve of the fourteen City Council primary candidates for the three districts
closest to the project oppose it. The three Community Boards that converge within
the project site are all opposed to or extremely critical of the project. Political
support and public opinion over the years have moved further and further away
from the project, not toward it.
We would like to think that the following issues would matter to a firm such
as yours and with the reputation you are building for yourselves. Many consider
Forest City Ratner‘s Atlantic Yards project to be the poster child for everything
that is wrong with development planning and process in New York City. It was
born in a backroom. It is an undemocratic, wired, sweetheart deal that violates
any number of good government and good planning principles. The project—though
reliant on enormous public subsidies, discounted public land, a complete zoning
override, disenfranchisement of local voters and elected officials, demapping
of city streets, and eminent domain abuse—has not gone through any public planning
process whatsoever and bypassed New York's democratic, public land use review
The only process it has undergone—the State's environmental review—was
a predetermined sham, dead set on allowing whatever Forest City wanted. Indeed,
this summer's substantive changes in design, timeline and project phasing did
not result in a supplemental environmental review, once again bypassing any
public scrutiny of the project.
Just one basic example of the project's abuses is that New York City zoning
arenas within 200 feet of residential districts, yet that regulation has
been overridden by fiat.
Another abuse is at the core of the project—the removal of purported "blight."
Forest City Ratner's and New York State's claims that the neighborhood is blighted
are unfounded You must certainly be aware that the Prospect Heights, Fort Greene,
Park Slope area has become some of the most valuable real estate in Brooklyn.
The state's blight designation, on Forest City Ratner's behalf, is a trumped
up pretext used to justify eminent domain and a land grab. The only blight that
exists around the Atlantic Yards site is the developer's blight that has been
created in the past six years by Forest City Ratner in their unwarranted demolition
of historically significant architecture like the Ward Bakery building and perfectly
viable homes and businesses as well as the removal of the Carlton Avenue bridge
over the rail yard.
We are well aware of the purported benefits touted by project proponents and
Forest City Ratner. We've known those benefits to be misleading and illusory
for years. Perhaps, you may have been misled by your current employer in this
regard. But now we are in a situation where it is clear to nearly everyone that
the Atlantic Yards project approved in 2006 cannot and will not ever be built.
The promises of thousands of jobs will never be met and the promises of affordable
housing will never be fulfilled—and even those promises were misleading
since Forest City Ratner wasn't planning on adding affordable housing,
but would just shift it from other areas of the city.
The reality of the new truncated proposal is on display with the fact that
your renderings are only of an arena, while Forest City Ratner maintains
it will build sixteen towers and open space. The renderings are a blunt admission
that the only part of the Atlantic Yards project that remains is the arena.
The rest is a formless, phantom project. Even so, in three days the Empire State
Development Corporation is expected to rubberstamp this charade.
What will we be left with if the non-existent project plan goes through and
overcomes the community opposition? We'll be left with the blight the project
was supposedly going to ameliorate from a neighborhood that wasn't really blighted
to begin with.
The grand Atlantic Yards scheme—the grand PR strategy to sell the project
as a solution for Brooklyn’s housing and unemployment crisis—has
fallen flat on its face. And now all Brooklynites and New Yorkers are promised
is a white elephant arena in the middle of a housing crisis—an arena that
will sit empty nearly all of the time. Barclays Center is the most expensive
arena ever proposed (and likely to get more expensive). It would be supported
by an estimated $726 million in public subsidies and tax breaks for Forest City
Ratner but would be a $40 million net loss for the City (with an additional
$180 million loss in opportunity costs) according to the NYC
Independent Budget Office analysis released last week.
Supposedly the justification for a project of this proposed scale and use is
proximity to the Atlantic Terminal transit hub, and therefore it is trumpeted
as a transit-oriented project. But Forest City Ratner plans nearly 4,000 parking
spaces and enormous interim surface parking lots—where homes and businesses
once stood—that are likely to perpetuate for decades if the developer gets control
of the 22-acre site.
The project has always been an affront to the community and now, after multiple
bait-and-switches, it is not possible to find any redeeming value.
Your client, Mr. Ratner, has cynically exploited the community's needs for his
benefit, perniciously created and exploited false divisions within the community,
and attempted a major land grab in the heart of Brooklyn's cultural core.
We, and thousands of individuals, oppose this behavior as much as we oppose
the project. By taking on this project, this is the level of opposition you
should expect to face.
We think that as responsible professionals, you must be aware that your designs
are being used in an attempt to mask the political, planning, economic and aesthetic
failures of Forest City Ratner's corrupt Atlantic Yards development proposal.
We hope that as practitioners and teachers of architecture that you will hold
yourselves to a higher standard as it will set an example for your students,
as well as other members of your field, by choosing not to be engaged with a
project with so many ethical problems. You are best known for pursuing a "third
way" in architecture. But with this commission, sadly, you have chosen
the wrong way.
Of course we understand that the current economy is particularly difficult for
architecture firms, but please understand that many of us have sacrificed much
in the past six years of opposition to this project.
On these grounds, we urge you to reconsider your involvement. And we will be
pleased to meet with you and discuss these issues.
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn