May 3, 2008
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Take the plans for the Ratner mega-development in downtown Brooklyn for example. When residents rose up to oppose a similar scandal at the site of the Brighton Beach Baths in the early to mid 90's, the developer, Alexander Muss & Sons, stopped at nothing to push his development to completion. The community was overwhelmingly opposed to Muss's Brighton By the Sea. Congestion, out-of-scale buildings (the original proposal called for buildings of 50 stories which would have made them the tallest in the borough), overloading of the sewers, subways and other services were among the objections of the residents. But Muss, who was responsible for the wall of skyscrapers along Collins Avenue in Miami beach, and had that same vision for Brooklyn's shoreline, used bully tactics, the power of his money and connections to his political cronies to try and get his way.
Which brings me back to today. In a fashion reminiscent of Muss, Bruce Ratner has tried to force his distorted vision of Brooklyn down the throats of residents in Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Fort Greene. His plan would build a wall of sun-blocking skyscrapers that would separate some of Brooklyn's most beautiful and historic neighborhoods from each other; communities that are beloved for their low-rise and historic character. In addition to those 16 over-towering high-rises he would install a stadium at the junction of Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush, already the city's most congested intersection. This $4 billion project would use close to $2 billion of public money (our money!) and abuse the state's power of eminent domain by taking private property and handing it over to the billionaire developer for enormous profits.
Asking the Governor to stop the plunder of our neighborhood.
A broad coalition of neighborhood groups and organizations under the leadership of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) has led the fightback to protect the neighborhoods. At stake is not only questions of congestion, out-of-scale development and destruction of historic, low-rise neighborhoods but also the negative effects of gentrification with its inevitable disappearance of affordable housing due to escalating rents. With Ratner's luxury towers setting the pace for development in the surrounding area, poor people, working people, people of moderate incomes will be forced from the neighborhood as more affluent people move in. This is not conjecture. It's fact - just look across the river to Manhattan and all around Brooklyn right now to see it in action right before our eyes!
Recent downturns in the economy have prompted statements from the developer that only the arena could be built presently. The other elements, he said, including promises of jobs, affordable components as part of the luxury high-rises would be put on hold indefinately. Further, Ratner demanded that the public fork over even more subsidies on top of the $2 billion already estimated to be provided, if the development was to proceed. What chutzpah!
It was in light of those uncertainties that hundreds of residents turned out today at the site of the development to demand that Governor David Paterson call a "time out" on Ratner's Atlantic Yards. Speakers, including Councilwoman Letitia "Tish" James, State Senator Velmenette Montgomery and Councilman David Yassky addressed the crowd. James said it was a scandal that billions would be given to a private developer while funds for our public schools were being drastically cut. Yassky said it was time for the community to finally be heard and listened to. Montgomery thanked DDDB and the others who have kept community protest alive during all these years. "You are the reason that this project will eventually go away," she said.
People's Councilwoman Tish James gets the applause of Chris Owens who MC'd the event.
Entertainment was provided by the Manson Family Picnic (above) and Scott Turner.
Scott Turner, of Fans For Fair Play, sings a song of fair play for Brooklyn residents.
Chris Owens, community activist and President of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, MC'd the event and led the crowd in loud and boisterous cheers of "Time out! Time out! Time out!" that could be heard for blocks.
Hearkening back to the nefarious tactics of Muss, the developer imported counter-demonstrators to harass and intimidate the residents. But they were kept at bay by police and their presence did little to dampen the spirits of the Brooklynites who assembled to protect their communities. How ironic and sad to see some unions and workers promised jobs by Ratner(which now seem to be evaporating as quickly as Ratner's other promises). Can't they see that to side with a billionaire developer against a community striving to safeguard its rights is the wrong side? As the old union song asked - "Which side are you on?" Ratner is no friend of workers. That's for sure.
Imported counter-demonstrators are kept at a distance by police.
Muss eventually had to compromise. But before the community could force him to back off he demolished a beloved, old neighborhood asset: the Brighton Baths. Eventually he was forced to compromise. He still built his buildings but at a much lower level thanks to the unending opposition of the surrounding neighborhoods. Even though he refuses to bend, the same fate faces Mr. Ratner as the opposition to his ill-fated and scandal-ridden plans continues to grow and grow. This battle ain't over by a long shot. The people of Brooklyn refuse to live in Ratner's shadow.
WANT TO SEE MORE?
For a slide show of photos of today's rally just CLICK HERE.
For a gallery of photos, CLICK HERE.