Monday, July 26, 2010


Crain's is running an interesting piece on what it describes as the birth of a new urban model for development-and focuses on Battery Park City as its paragon: "Today, Battery Park City boasts more than 12,000 residents, 10.8 million square feet of office space—including the headquarters of American Express, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs— three schools, 35 acres of parks and a 1.2-mile riverfront esplanade. It's also a place where people want to work and live. “In Battery Park City, you're in a small town with neighbors who know each other and lots of parks,” says Anthony Notaro Jr., a community leader who moved there a dozen years ago. “You have every amenity you could imagine. There is nothing else like it in New York.”

But, just how much is this successful-and rather serendipitously planned development seen as a model for other projects planned in the city?  "Now, with major mixed-use development projects looming on the horizon—from the rail yards on the West Side of Manhattan to Willets Point in Queens to Atlantic Yards and Coney Island in Brooklyn—Battery Park City is also being viewed by planners as a potential model for crafting sustainable communities from scratch."

Battery Park City and Willets Point, perfect together? Here's Crain's on Willets Point:

"Area: 62 acres near Citi Field in Queens

Goals: Hotel, convention center, a school, 5,500 mixed-income residential units, eight acres of public spaces, community amenities and 1.7 million square feet of retail."

Now there has been a great deal of prattling on about how the Willets Point development will somehow become the culmination of Mike Bloomberg's 20130 vision of sustainable development-and much of the prattling is unmoored from any sense of what kind of impact the project-as it is currently envisioned-will have on the immediate surrounding neighborhoods; as well as on Queens County as a whole.
Just a cursory look at what is planned for the site-and a concomitant look at the site itself-should instill a note of caution to anyone with sustainable development dreams (and that includes some misguided-and perhaps deluded with some incentives-environmental groups that rushed to the mayor;'s side to sing praises to the EDC-driven new Willets Point vision).

Now for a reality check. Willets Point, unlike, say, Battery Park City, isn't a nice short walk from not only the city's financial sector, but to as many mass transit options as any Transportation Alternatives aficionado could ever want. Willets Point is relatively isolated, and the major mass transit option-as we have been writing about in respect to the Flushing Commons project-is the already overcrowded 7 Line. The same goes for the myriad bus lines that move in and out of the Flushing transit hub.

Now, according to the Willets Point EIS-which will have to stand in for a definitive document until something a bit more accurate can be commissioned-the development will generate around 80,000 car and truck trips a day onto the already gridlocked intersections that plague the surrounding communities of Corona, East Elmhurst and Flushing. Now keep in mind boys and girls that this 80,000 trip estimate devolves from a methodology that projects almost half of all the Willets Point activity will be somehow effected through the use of the aforementioned over-capacitied train and buses.

The three card monte scammers at AKRF-through the active collusion of its subcontractor Eng Wang Taub-came to this conclusion by the use of a neat methodological sleight of hand: basing the car trip generation on the assertion that only around 70% of Queens residents own cars (and not the over 90% that NYMTC concludes). You get it? Garbage in, garbage out.

But let's for the moment-and for argumment's sake-say that AKRF/EDC are right. Where the hell are all these transit riders supposed to go. Perhaps Sadik-Kahn is prescient in her promotion of bicycle lanes because, at least as far as Flushing and Willets Point are concerned, that may be the only decent alternative-although it is a rather long and difficult ride into Manhattan. But what if they are wrong, and there assignment of this mysterious 50% to mass transit is a man-made mirage?

If that's the case, than the 80,000 Willets Point car and truck trips a day that the EIS projects, is a drastic under count-and the entire current EDC analysis used to justify building ramps off of the Van Wyck is constructed on a foundation of quicksand. This and other points will be the subject of state senate hearings that will be held on August 12th. But the point we're making, is that the project has never been properly vetted for its environmental impacts, and its reviews for this impact-from both the city council and the NYSDOT-are prime examples of the corruption of the land use application procedures.

So, in our view, the state senate needs to not only look at the tarnished ramp review process-and the shifting and bogus documentation used to support their construction-but also call in the MTA to testify as to the ability of the mass transit infrastructure to handle all of the ridership that is projected for, not only Willets Point, but for Flushing Commons, Sky View Parc, and on and on. This kind of evaluation will expose the entire sustainability vision of the mayor's as a chimera.

But one last point, if you will. As Crain's tells us, Willets Point will contain 1.7 million square feet of retail. Unlike Battery Park, whose retail services an exclusively local clientele, the Willets Point retail will encompass the city's largest auto-dependent shopping mall. Here's why so much traffic will be generated, and why any comparisons to lower Manhattan are simply whack.

When honestly analyzed-and leaving aside the inconvenient truth that all of this is going forward with the absconding of other folks' private property-Willets Point is a development that is simply unsustainable-and if it's part of any new vision of urban development, it is a vision that would find a warm welcome in the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein.