Getting Things Done in NYC
A lot of people are starting to say that we have a culture of inertia, and nothing can get built. I even hear cries like 'We need another Robert Moses'. But there's actually a pretty good roadmap to development, it just isn't a top-down roadmap. Those days are over for two reasons. It's a lot easier to build consensus around a project if you take a sensitive to neighbors approach, and it's a lot harder to build consensus for a project if you don't. You just can't hide the protests and costs, like Moses did by befrieding the publishers of the Times and using that relationship to suppress stories.
The Neighborhood Retail Alliance offers a sense of the new model of getting things done:
The Alliance is in a good position to comment on this issue because we have been involved in derailing more projects than anyone else over the course of twenty years. From our vantage point one thing is clear: where broad-based community support for development is present projects have a good chance of success. In addition, where local stakeholders are given a real piece of the action, generating a successful opposition will be especially difficult.
The best example of this is the building of a Pathmark supermarket in East Harlem. The primary reason for the success was the central role played by the Abyssinian Development Corporation. Abyssinian, as the developer, gave the project a powerful local stakeholder and by doing so enabled proponents to overcome some powerful arguments (related to questionable subsidies), of the independent Hispanic supermarket owners in the area (also helpful was Councilman Guillermo Linares’s betrayal of his fellow Dominicans).
Pathmark played this model successfully a few years later when it co-ventured with the Mid-Bronx Desperados (MDB) on the New Horizons shopping center in Crotona. Giving locals a real stake, then, helps create a tangible support and momentum for development.
We can see some of these same elements in the Ratner plan for Atlantic Yards (we are, admittedly, far from unbiased here). With ACORN and BUILD as stakeholders it has been tough for opponents to get real good traction even with the sticky issue of eminent domain.
All of which brings us to the West Side and the Bronx Terminal Market. The top-down, full speed ahead, we know what’s good for you approach created local enemies and gives ammunition to opponents. The lack of transparency and the presence of cronyism and public subsidies only exacerbate the situation.
So proponents of development need to cultivate local stakeholders and develop a genuine public interest rationale that resonates with local constituencies as well as wider publics. Failing to do this, more than any anti-development climate, is what often dooms the grandiose plans of deputy mayors and developers.