I was meeting with a client the other day, and we were bemoaning – yet again – another mega development project that did not deliver on promises made to the community.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s same stuff, different day and my client heartily agrees. The both of us just sighed.
It is confounding to me that the same “drill” occurs, over and over again, and, yet, people don’t seem to get what’s happening. Or, even worse, they do, but they just don’t care or are part of the problem. This applies specifically to elected officials who continue to vote for these giant projects without changing the format – and for those of you unfamiliar with the format, here it is:
Developer wants to build a big project of some sort which will inevitably disrupt a neighborhood, take away green space, use public assets and/or financing, force lower income residents out, drive up rents, etc. – you can pick one or all of these. Developer also claims great benefits for the community – it will stimulate the economy! Create hundreds or thousands of jobs! Bring needed services/space to the community! Etc!
They quite purposely make the project larger than they know will be approved and are very careful to include a list of so called “community benefits.”
Project goes to the local elected officials which, here in NYC, is the City Council. The project goes to a specific committee where there is debate and “public comment,” before a vote. Some council members ask good questions. Developers come with charts, power point presentations, people in suits. There are the promises to the community, including jobs and a shot in the arm to the local economy, two promises that developers know elected officials cannot seem to oppose. There is sometimes even heated debate, especially during the public comment part. Some Councilmember or other makes a big deal of telling the developer to scale back the project. Project is scaled back (slightly), Council committee votes its approval and it’s on to a vote with the whole Council where the project is declared a win-win for everybody!
The same general “process” is used when the project involves state government too.
Perhaps I have oversimplified the situation, but that’s more or less it, unfortunately.
This is not to say, however, that there should never be any development projects or that they are all bad. Since New York City real estate continues to become more and more valuable, many of these projects are really nothing more than a land grab in disguise and/or a way to get valuable public funding dollars for private projects.
Two NYC projects come to mind – one already mostly built, and the other on the drawing board. The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is almost complete except for – you guessed it – the affordable housing part that was promised to the community as part of the deal. Some local officials did try to get the housing built along with the main project, but the move was turned down.
In Greenwich Village, NYU concocted an enormous, multi-billion dollar expansion plan that it said it needed for academic purposes. Turns out even NYU’s faculty doesn’t buy this reason and has called NYU administration out on it. There was a lawsuit filed by many groups and individuals in the Village, and the Court has ruled that three strips of important parkland that NYU wanted to destroy for its plan cannot be used because they are “real” parks. (NYU tried to argue that, since they weren’t “officially” part of the Parks Dept, that they aren’t really parks, even though some of those green spaces have been literally used for decades as parks.) We’re hoping for a better outcome on this development plan, and the judge’s decision has been very encouraging.
No matter what you think of the two instances I cited, I think everyone should be able to agree that the process that leads to approval of these projects is woefully inadequate and needs to change.
Now to find some brave elected officials who are up to the task.