Official exterior rendering of Barclays Center, opening fall 2012, as designed by SHoP Architects.
I've mapped traces of an actor-network involved in transforming representations of the Atlantic Yards redevelopment project in Brooklyn. The green circles represent sources, like The New York Times, mapped based on their headquarters, the black dots represent individual articles/videos/etc and the purple stars represent interviews I've conducted and edited. The map covers two events so far, about which I've written short essays to guide you through the map. Essay 1: Ratner's Announcement. Essay 2: Freddy's Bar.
INTRODUCTION TO ATLANTIC YARDS
In 2004 Cleveland real estate developer Bruce Ratner bought the New Jersey Nets basketball team for $300 million and announced he was moving the team to a new arena in Brooklyn. This arena, built by his real estate development company, Forest City Ratner Enterprises, would be part of a 22-acre, 8-million square foot mixed use development called Atlantic Yards, located where North Park Slope and South Fort Greene meet Prospect Heights. Of those 22 acres, exempting public streets, eight were owned by the Long Island Railroad and the rest were held privately. It would be, without question, one of the largest and most expensive redevelopment projects in Brooklyn history.
With support from Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Ratner commissioned Frank Gehry as lead architect and hired landscape architect Laurie Olin to plan eight acres of open space. In the initial plan, Gehry was charged with designing an arena and 16 skyscrapers, some nearly 60 stories tall, featuring commercial space, office space and 6,400 apartments, with over 2,000 dedicated to “affordable housing,” and Olin orchestrated their placement (both architects would be fired after the plan was approved). With a density of 500,000 people per square mile, their vision of Atlantic Yards would be the most densely populated place in America, seven times the population density of Manhattan. In 2006 New York's Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) approved the plan, estimated to cost over $4 billion. Though Atlantic Yards would be privately held, nearly half of the development funds would be covered using public subsidies, bonds, tax breaks and exemptions.
ESDC is run by the state, not the city. It overrides the City Planning Commission and the City Council, and it can violate zoning restrictions, condemn land as blighted and seize it using eminent domain. All of these were used to help Ratner acquire those 22 acres. Though Atlantic Yards was opposed by a number of local officials, such as City Council member Letitia James, who represented the Brooklyn district where Atlantic Yards would be built, Ratner broke ground in 2010 without facing a single legislative vote. Originally promised to be completed in 2006, Barclays Center—naming rights to the arena were purchased by London-based Barclays Bank for between $200 and $400 million—is now scheduled to open in the fall of 2012. None of the other buildings have begun construction, and their preliminary redesigns have only recently been made public.
In April 2006 Nicholas Confessore wrote in The New York Times, whose headquarters are partially owned by Forest City Ratner, that Atlantic Yards was “the first large-scale urban real estate venture in New York City where opposition has coalesced most visibly in the blogosphere.” My project is inspired by this dueling place and placelessness of Atlantic Yards opposition. By recognizing places, people and things that constantly reassert their utility for that opposition, what can I reveal about the symbolic, political and physically changing geography of Atlantic Yards?
What follows are two moments in the history of Atlantic Yards, described according to a series of mediators I’ve identified by tracing accounts online, bolstered by short accounts by the photographer Tracy Collins [over time I’ll incorporate more interviews]. The first moment occurs before the “coalescing” of Confessore’s “blogosphere,” when Ratner’s plans to buy the New Jersey Nets and move them to Brooklyn were first announced. The second, about three years later, concerns the closing of Freddy’s Bar and Backroom in Prospect Heights.
So far this map only offers the slightest glimpse at the actors surrounding Atlantic Yards, and altogether bypasses those actors’ role in transforming the identity, architecture and infrastructure manifestation of the redevelopment project, which has loomed here both shadowy and static. In his essay, "Give Me a Gun and I Will Make Buildings Move," Bruno Latour writes: “Only by enlisting the movements of a building and accounting carefully for its ‘tribulations’ would one be able to state its existence: it would be equal to the building’s extensive list of controversies and performances over time, i.e. it would be equal to what it does, to the way it resists attempts at transformation, allows certain visitors’ actions and impedes others, bugs observers, challenges city authorities, and mobilizes different communities of actors” (86). I only focus here on that final item, and one semester is a woefully short time to even do justice to that. Instead, I hope this account of accounts offers at least an acknowledgement of the complexity of Atlantic Yards, pointing the way for future study. The story of Atlantic Yards pulls in such a twisted bundle of environmental justice, social justice, gentrification and market-based politics that— for the sake of future actors tied up in the next redevelopment project like it—its unfolding deserves some flattened clarity. A more thorough study, when pursued further, might inform future actors in urban land disputes and provide lessons for those looking to best assemble themselves to fight back.
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Works cited above:
Confessore, Nicholas. “A Blogfest Over a Project in Brooklyn.” The New York Times. 16 Apr. 2006. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.
Latour, Bruno and Albena Yaneva. "Give Me a Gun and I Will Make Buildings Move.” Explorations in Architecture: Teaching, Design, Research. Ed. Reto Geiser. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2008.
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Special thanks to Tracy Collins, Eric McClure and Lumi Rolley.