November 2017
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Atlantic Yards: Brooklyn Deserves A Better Plan

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On a slender, 22-acre strip of land between Prospect Heights and Fort Greene, the developer Forest City Ratner is proposing one of the largest building projects in Brooklyn’s history. Known as Atlantic Yards, it proposes 16 new skyscrapers and an 18,000-seat sports arena — more than eight and a half million square feet of new development.

Brooklyn is, of course, a big and ever-changing place with plenty of room to grow. With its prime transit connections — 10 subway lines and a Long Island Rail Road terminal — the Atlantic Yards site is a logical one for new development, including an arena and badly needed affordable housing.

But in its present form, the Forest City Ratner plan does not work for Brooklyn. For it to work, the project’s design, size and scale should be altered to fit with the borough’s historic character and its promising future.

Brooklyn is appreciated for its human scale, but the current plan would overwhelm surrounding neighborhoods with massive new towers and create a private park on what is now publicly owned land. Brooklyn is celebrated for its lively streets, shops and restaurants, but the current plan would eliminate existing streets, divide communities instead of uniting them, and add 40,000 new vehicle trips every day.

Brooklyn deserves better. The current proposal should be amended according to five proven urban design principles.

First, the project should respect the character of the existing neighborhoods. Sixteen new skyscrapers would overwhelm the surrounding brownstone neighborhoods and block views of Brooklyn’s wristwatch — the Williamsburgh Savings Bank’s famed clock tower. The overall density of the plan should be reduced, historic buildings on the site — like the Ward Bakery — should be reused, and the city should protect adjacent historic neighborhoods from inappropriate development.

Second, public streets should not be eliminated. The project should retain Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and keep Fifth Avenue open. It should add new public streets to connect the communities surrounding the rail yards.

Third, a real public park should be created. Forest City Ratner proposes a seven-acre “publicly accessible” open space, but this space will serve primarily as a private backyard for residential skyscrapers. Genuine public parks — like Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill Park and Fort Greene Park — are bordered by streets.

Fourth, the project should promote lively streets. The 16 “towers in a park” would suffocate the active street life that Brooklyn is famous for. Instead, the plan should allow for a continuous and diverse stretch of shops, restaurants and other small businesses along Atlantic Avenue and other streets in the project.

Finally, the surrounding neighborhoods should not be left frozen by traffic gridlock. The developer, the city and the state have yet to put forward a plan to deal with the staggering traffic consequences of the proposal. Improved public transit, traffic-calming measures, congestion pricing and residential parking permits should all be explored to create a binding plan to make sure that Brooklyn doesn’t grind to a halt.