Monday, November 21, 2005

Scurvy Survey

It is now becoming quite a fashionable pattern for developers, responding to the opposition to their questionable real estate ventures, to hire public opinion firms to "gauge" the desirability of projects they’re about to undertake. The latest in this genre of push polls is the one commissioned by Related for the proposed Gateway Mall.

As the Crain's Insider reported on Friday, Bronx residents support the construction of the mall by a whopping 61%-15%. This poll surveyed 400 registered voters and is eerily reminiscent of the various-Wal-Mart sponsored surveys that are designed to demonstrate the deep support that the store has in NYC.

What's fascinating here –we don't have the actual poll so we are force to extrapolate from the Crain's story – is the kinds of questions that were asked. Our favorite one: "Do you believe that the Bronx deserves the same kind of projects that other boroughs have enjoyed? (84% agree –Does this mean that 16% of those polled actually disagreed with this question?).

Also of interest was the "finding" (keep in mind we have no idea about the geographic spread of this survey instrument) that 76% of the respondents reported that they shop regularly outside of the borough. This contradicts the report about the Related survey in the Observer that found that only 7% of the people in the immediate neighborhoods surrounding the mall, went outside of the Bronx to shop.

What does this mean? It is quite likely that many Bronxites, but not those in the immediate vicinity of Gateway, do leave the city to shop. Will these intrepid travelers now stay and shop in a South Bronx mall that is going to be difficult to access because of the traffic congestion that the developer’s consultants have conveniently underestimated? Or will they, as residents of Staten Island have told us, continue to leave the city for a whole host of reasons?

Of course, the most interesting questions are those that weren't even asked. We just happen to have a few:

1) Do you believe that it is right to evict small businesses (who have operated in the area for years) without a viable relocation plan and without adequate compensation?

2) Do you think that it is fair to take city-owned land and turn it over to a good friend of the deputy mayor without the benefit of a public bidding process?

3) Do you approve of subsidizing a multi-billion dollar real estate company (yes the same one whose owner is the deputy mayor's former business partner) to build big box stores that are reportedly itching to break into the NYC market?

4) Do you believe that elected officials outside of the Bronx (like the leadership of the City Council) should exercise an oversight over a development that is utilizing tens of millions of dollars of tax payer subsidies? (Especially if it is determined that the developer in question, while never entering into any talks with local community leaders, has contributed thousands of dollars to said elected officials);

5) Do you believe that a development that hires traffic consultants who "find" that adding hundreds of thousands more car trips to the Deegan will not cause any traffic problems for Bronx motorists should be approved without any independent evaluation of the project's impact?
So it appears that the Related’s exercise in gauging public opinion is a contrived case of self-serving disinformation. Undoubtedly, this purported survey will now be parroted by spokespeople and assorted clingers-on, giving renewed meaning to the old expression: "one lies and the other swears to it."