Monday, July 27, 2009

Red Hook Could Do With a Little "Vision" Too.

The Brooklyn Courier, through the journalism of Gary Buiso, is again giving some comprehensive and thoughtful coverage to recent revelations regarding development on the Brooklyn waterfront. In the paper's latest article, "BK waterfront : recharged" (read it here), Mr. Buiso writes of the recently announced $165 million "Sunset Park Waterfront Vision Plan", unveiled last week by such luminaries as Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, Representatives Nydia VelÁzquez and Jerrold Nadler, Council member Sara Gonzalez and New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky.

You can read more about the plan here
, but what struck me when hearing about this plan was what a different sort of approach development in Sunset Park was getting as opposed to how things seem to be getting done in Red Hook. The Sunset Park plan seemed to be very comprehensive and balanced, with obvious thought given to what was appropriate for this area and what its potential was economically, but also with real attention given to the needs of the residents surrounding the waterfront with the addition of a huge waterfront park, more affordable housing, as well as plenty of care to utilize "green" technology and practices within the proposed industry and other activities.

This difference was obviously apparent to Gary Buiso when he noted, "the city’s Red Hook waterfront plan —devoid of acres of open space and minimal public access — stands in stark contrast to the ambitious vision for Sunset Park."

I have to say it's great to read the Courier's coverage of these issues, especially the writing of Mr. Buiso, because he - along with the Brooklyn Papers' Mike McLaughlin - often seem to be the only journalists in our city digging below the surface on these issues, rather than regurgitating a press release and calling it "news". A recent op-ed piece in the Daily News lauding the plans for the Brooklyn Waterfront, including Phoenix Beverages relocation to Red Hook from Long Island City, had very little nuance or detail and basically read as a Homer Simpsonesque - "Beer - Mmmm". You can read it for yourself here.

So, Gary Buiso asked me what my thoughts were on this recent plan for Sunset Park, from a Red Hook point of view, and I emailed him my take on it, some of which he quoted in his article. But I'd like to reproduce the full text of what I wrote, just to flesh out my thoughts on this matter.

Just a little side note - I'm always a little uncomfortable about being "that guy" who's always quoted in the paper, and I always encourage anyone who contacts me to seek out other people to quote, get opinions from, etc. I think it's just because I've started this blog, and I've stuck my hand up at a few meetings that I'm asked to comment on these matters - and I know that a lot of people have shown support for what I've been trying to do in this blog in particular (thanks neighbors), and I know there is a lot of agreement in our neighborhood regarding some of the things to which I've been trying to draw attention - but as the title of my blog suggests, it's just one person's opinion, and I don't presume for it to be seen in any other way.

Here is what I wrote to Gary Buiso -

"I think it's interesting to see that in Sunset park, an area where this sort of maritime industrial activity makes sense, with rail access and lots of underused space on the waterfront and upland, the plan proposed still includes 22 acres of new open space and public parks with enhanced public access to the waterfront, affordable housing, many environmentally friendly initiatives, and a seemingly balanced, cohesive plan with real benefits for the residents of Sunset Park.

Meanwhile in Red Hook, with the recent developments initiated by the EDC at the piers and on the waterfront, we look forward to more trucks, more pollution and very little given back to the densely populated neighborhoods hugging the waterfront that are already struggling under the burden of pollution and congestion - no new parks, very little waterfront access, no credible plan for the mitigation of harmful diesel emissions at the Container Port or with the trucks, no traffic plan, no affordable housing component, and little done to achieve economic benefits for the small businesses sprouting up all over our neighborhood.

It would be nice if the planning for Red Hook was given the sort of thoughtful consideration that has seemed to have been given to the planning for Sunset Park.

Red Hook could do with a little "vision" too."


  1. The Sunset Park Vision Plan and Sunset Park 197-A are two amazing documents which are the results of years of collaborative planning between CB 7, local residents, activists such as Elizabeth Yeampierre, business owners, EDC, SWBIDC and elected officials. However, there are some several glaring differences between Red Hook and Sunset Park:

    1.) All the major stakeholders in Sunset Park emphatically agree on one general principle – no residential or large-scale commercial conversion on the waterfront, in an M1 zone or within the industrial business zone (IBZ). Clearly this is not the case in Red Hook (e.g. Fairway building, Imlay Street and Ikea). I’ll go as far to posit that if, when opposing Ikea, the community had argued in favor of a working waterfront (e.g. preserving the graving docks) and developed an alliance with the pro-maritime camp, instead of backing a no-go luxury condos plan, they might have actually killed the big box.

    2.) Since there’s a strong culture of community activism in Sunset Park which tends to be more inclusive, realistic and reflective of the neighborhood’s demographics, the desired objectives are more obtainable and a easier sell to the relevant decisionholders. Moreover, Sunset Park activists tend not to waste their ammo fighting as-of-right projects, but rather work toward making those projects more sustainable/green collar and responsive to the neighborhood needs. A prime example of this is the Sims Metal recycling plant.
    Since Red Hook is a bifurcated community – 20% mostly white, creative types living in the “back” and 80% people of color residing in NYCHA projects – it’s very difficult to generate interest let alone develop a consensus on community uses including land use. Plus, there isn’t much agreement among residents of the back. Opinions vary from laissez faire – keep Red Hook weird, kid-free and off the radar and don’t even think of messing with our hydroponic pot plants growing on the roof – to Red Hook should be a bobo’s paradise like Sausalito with lots of little shoppes, live-work lofts, and waldorf schools. Of course there are lots of folks that are somewhere in between and are probably too overwhelmed with life to get involved with local politics.

    3.)Sunset Park is more cohesive in terms of both geography and government representation. Nearly all of the industrial sites in Sunset Park are located west of the Gowanus Expressway away from resident and naturally, there are fewer conflicts between residents and businesses. Whereas in Red Hook, zoning is arcane and industrial sites are not limited to a defined area with clear boundaries, but are scattered all over the place, there are lots of conflicts and mistrust. Additionally, nearly all of Sunset Park lies within the same community district, council district and school district and therefore it’s much easier to line up one’s duck in terms of forwarding an agenda. Red Hook, on the other hand, is so Balkanized; I don’t know where to begin. It’s a relatively poor, mixed-use neighborhood in a community district made up of mostly wealthy residential areas and I don’t think I’m the first to opine that Red Hook has long been CB 6’s dumping grounds – the decision to move most of Phoenix from Pier 7 to Pier 11 is a prime example of this. Its electoral districts are the most gerrymandered in the entire city – US Rep. Nadler controls the waterfront, but has virtually no constituents. The council member can get away with totally ignoring RH since most of her political base is in Sunset Park and she has one lone appointment to CB 6.

  2. Anonymous makes some good points about the difficulty, if not impossibility, of forming and directing coordinated community action. Also, as he points out, Gonzalez can and does ignore Red Hook as unimportant to her political career. (I have a higher opinion of Nadler generally, but he does no better for my community.)

    More than anything, Red Hook is a cautionary tale of what can happen to a community with no political clout. It's the dumping ground for everything nobody else wants and I don't see how we can do anything about that.