Let the Developers Pay for Themselves, Says Mattera

Editorial: Parks Worthy Recipients of Taxpayer Money; Developers Not
Brooklyn Downtown Star
Thursday, September 22, 2005

City planners have it backwards, charged Gloria Mattera, a Green Party candidate for Brooklyn Borough President at a debate Monday night. The mammoth Brooklyn Bridge Park, in the works for years, and now on the horizon in a vastly altered form, is being required to pay for itself, while private developer Forest City Ratner's giant arena and 17-building complex will be given public subsidies.

Ratner was also given the air rights over the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yards for $100 million by the MTA this week -- given, that is, because the development site was appraised at $214 million.
Gloria Mattera
Let the developers pay for themselves, Mattera (photo, right) said. Brooklyn deserves a publicly-funded park, accessible to all, both in theory and practice. That is, it must be more than available -- it must be welcoming. People who come to use the park should not be made to feel like they are trespassing in the backyard of the apartment buildings the Brooklyn Bridge Development Corporation (BBDC) is planning to put there in order to fund the park. Paying for the park through apartment rentals could lead residents to feel and act like they own it, at the expense of the rest of Brooklyn.

The idea of a financially self-sustainable park came from an agreement that dates back to 1992 between community leaders and city planners, some of whom are still serving in similar capacities. The agreement laid out 13 principles for the park's design. The sustainability principle referred to operational and maintenance costs then, and has now come to include capital costs such as wave attenuation for yachters, and a private police force, thereby justifying the need for luxury apartments to pay for the additions, which will in turn privatize the park. It is a sad day indeed.

It should be noted that the remaining principles - such as having a grand entrance at Atlantic Avenue, have been omitted, and plans for active uses such as an ice rink are also nowhere to be found.

The idea that a park should have to pay for itself was admittedly a little batty to begin with, the community is now realizing. No one is quite sure why a park that is expected to occupy between 67 and 85 acres of land, depending on who you talk to, is not worthy of taxpayer dollars that will instead be relegated to Ratner.

Libertarian Gary Popkin was the candidate at the borough president's debate who was most enthused about the idea of parks being privately funded. He even suggested selling memberships rather than building apartments in order to do it. Buyers and sellers should make the decisions about development, not government, he said. Popkin might have offended some of the audience members if his suggestion had been a little more far-fetched rather than so closely depicting the reality that Brooklyn is facing.