Does Atlantic-Barclays Land Us in a Future of Success?

When I return to my home in Long Island every weekend, I can’t help but notice the giant billboard near the huge, empty grasslands located 200 feet away from the house.  Depending on which side you look at the billboard from, you receive two different messages.  If you look from one side, you will see an advertisement for a beautiful potential-100 acre mall and town plaza; on the other side, you will see the same advertisement, except with a giant red ‘x’ on it, showing the opinion of the community members of Syosset.  That sign has been up for a few years now, and thankfully, those 100 acres of fenced grass are still there.  Unlike me, however, the families, cultures, and ethnicities displaced by the Atlantic Yards Project weren’t as lucky.

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The Death of Public Space and Human Rights

         The concept of public space is dying, and as it gradually dies, so do the rights of the people that choose to occupy these areas. In her book The Naked City, Sharon Zukin discusses a perfect example of this collapse: Union Square. Union Square, like many of its sister public spaces, has historically provided an area for protests and assemblies of countless causes to thrive (132). Unfortunately, for the last few decades, since the 1980s, Union Square has began to rely on private companies through Business Improvement Districts and Local Development Corporations for its maintenance and survival. BIDS and LDCs present an attractive offer that lifts the responsibility of city government to regulate, maintain, pamper, and essentially gentrify public areas (such as parks), thus saving the government copious amounts of dollars (143). The companies behind these BIDs and LDCs, after gaining control over a small percentage of what is “public,” begin to branch out and before long, rents begin to exponentially increase, providing a true profit for these corporations (144).

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Understanding Cities: New York

The relationship between public-private partnerships are most certainly not as equal as the title implies, but they are certainly useful. In The Naked City by Sharon Zurkin, Zurkin analyzes this relationship relation to Union Square Park in New York City and various other projects done by these organizations in the history of the public. These ‘public’ spaces which she mentions are not very public at all, are owned by Business Improvement Districts (BID) and Local Development Corporations (LDC). These organizations take care of the public’s safety by putting watchful officers on watch, staff to clean up the park and keep the homeless away, mostly provided by the city government (127). As mentioned by Zukin, the image of all different kinds of people meeting in a public place such as Union Square appeals to the city, and not to the picturesque sidewalk as envisioned by Jane Jacobs, whose work was previously analyzed. The idea that public spaces are owned by private trusts indeed do betray the public’s trust (128). Being privately owned implies that the public truly do not have a say about what occurs on the space as they believe they do and isn’t a safe haven.

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In “The Naked City: Union Square and The Paradox of Public Space”, Sharon Zukin describes the transformation that Union Square underwent. The park opened in 1830, and had a wealthy neighborhood with upper class families living in. When the upper class moved out, it became a land of cheap shopping and low rents with immigrants and working class people moving in. However in the 1970s the park became a very dangerous place due to the illegal drugs trades going on. In the 1980s, the Union Square Partnership was the first Business Improvement District (BID) to be formed in New York State. Its purpose was to keep public spaces such as shopping streets and parks clean and safe.  This organization then led to upper class and chain stores to move into the neighborhood.

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Whose City Is It Anyway?

One of the most challenging aspects of crafting an urban landscape is striking a balance between the public and private realms. Sharon Zukin examines the change and continuity over time of Union Square Park in her analysis of the implications of increased private influence. As Zukin says in The Naked City: The Life and Death of Authentic Public Spaces, “It’s a normal evening at Union Square, but in this normality you find all the fascination of city life. You like to think of Union Square as an endless arcade of possibilities, reflecting and refining city dwellers’ creative ability to shape their own, spontaneous social space. It’s an authentic public square, not a place for contemplating nature, but a marketplace for meeting, trading, and gaining intelligence about social life. Yet this high degree of face-to-face sociability hides a paradox, for the public space of Union Square is controlled by a private group of the biggest property owners in the neighborhood” (126).

In other words, the perception of Union Square as a publicly owned space is simply an illusion.

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2017 Audit Reports a Loss of the Public to the Private

Sharon Zukin highlights in her novel, Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Cities the growing reliance of the city government on the control of private corporations. While it is true that the involvement of the Business Improvement District (BID) and Local Development Corporations (LDC) have created safer spaces, it is also evident that they have intentionally directed the traffic of people and stores according to their agenda. This notion is especially supported by the history of Union Square Park. Originally a working class venue, with a bustling shopping/ trade district featuring S Klein, and the host of many political parades and beliefs, the intervention of private organizations changed the area drastically. The extent of Union Square’s Partnership and Con Edison’s high rise Zeckendorf Towers, and multitude of NYU’s dorms have changed the demographics of the area—shifting to a middle class area with students ready to take on commercial endeavours.

Since Zukin’s piece, published in 2010, the city has continued to hand off projects to private corporations, with increasing responsibility, as the Audit Report on the City’s Oversight of Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) recorded last year in 2017. This transition; however, has not been handled well as the report states that POPS are in a number of violations for not effectively promoting their public spaces. Of the 333 POPS recorded in NYC, 275 POPs have been left unchecked by the Department of Buildings (DOB) in the last 4 years. The 58 POPS that had been inspected found 41 of them faced violations for restricting public access in one or more forms. Not only has the city failed to inspect these POPS within the required intervals, but it has also failed to keep track of the locations of these POPS. The DOB has an inaccurate database currently, meaning that certain private corporations would be able to dismiss certain public space regulations should they not be counted under the header of a POPS.   

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Union Square and the Collapse of the Working Class

In Sharon Zukin’s The Naked City, she discusses the development and change of Union Square and Fourteenth Street. The park originally opened in 1830 and boasted an exclusive neighborhood in which the area had excellent landscaping, elegant fountains and majestic picket fences that mimicked those of London. However, the upper class migrate out of the area with the steady northward movement of the commercial centers. Thus, Union Square transformed from an exclusive neighborhood to an entertainment center with theaters, restaurants and concert halls. This attracted many mass meetings and factory workers that were immigrants from Italy, Russia and Ireland. The migration of the working class caused Union Square to become an area of cheap shopping for poor workers from the original elegant residential and entertainment district.

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The Fight for Public Spaces


In Amanda Burden’s TedTalk in 2014, she presents the importance of public spaces within a city and how they function to produce benefits and make the city more desirable to live in.  Working as the Director of New York City Planning Commission under Mayor Bloomberg, Burden was faced with the problem of a potential increase of around 1 million people in an already dense city. She had to establish new zoning programs to house the influx of people and promoted the transit system near new development areas. In order to understand the neighborhoods she was rezoning, Burden spent years walking through the neighborhoods and holding panels to establish trust within these communities to learn how zoning could benefit community concern. Her success presented itself when she rezoned 124 neighborhoods, 40% of the city, and around 12,500 blocks. She also made sure that 90% of all new development was located within a ten-minute walk from the transit system, decreasing the need for cars.

While rezoning was attempting to solve the problem of increase growth, Burden’s interests also lied with creating waterfronts and public spaces that would change the image of New York City.  She worked on projects including Battery Park, waterfront parks in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and the Highline Park and promoted the establishment of pop-up cafes, tables and chairs where Broadway used to run, and sidewalk cafes.  She viewed these public spaces as areas that provide the city with an acquired aesthetic and improved the way New Yorkers felt about their city. Her passion was to make these areas an attraction to  New Yorkers and tourists and leave them with a meaningful new perspective when looking at this city.

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The Inequality Between Business Improvement Districts of New York City


Business Improvement Districts are held all over New York City yet the reasons for their creation and outcomes after creation vary greatly.  These two videos promote the establishment of BID’s in two separate parts of New York City, one in Chelsea and the other in Harlem, showing great contrast between BID’s throughout the city.

The first video is a promotion video of the Meatpacking District which demonstrates Sharon Zukins’ point on the effects that private corporations have on public space.  The businesses taking part of the BID are all wealthy designers, investment bankers, tech moguls and can be considered, under Richard Floridia’s terms, as the “creative class.”  The video promotes the Meatpacking District as the new public destination for New Yorkers to enjoy the culture New York City has to offer.  What’s missing from this video is what went missing as well when Union Square became a public-private partnership, the meaning of a true public space.  Although the video boasts about public attractions and open space for leisure, the “entire” public of New York City is not included.  Zukin often mentions that the true meaning of a public space is one in which people from all classes inhabit the same space and interact, including the homeless.  This video promotes an elitist city, with shots of people who seem like they have enough money to spend on the luxuries the Meatpacking District has to offer.  The businesses in the Meatpacking BID also mention that they are happy what the BID is doing not only for business but also residential life.  However, the Meatpacking district is no longer, “zoned for residences” (Mooney) and its main purpose is to feed to the night-life indulgences of New Yorkers. Continue reading “The Inequality Between Business Improvement Districts of New York City”

The Consequences of Urban Planning

            I found a recent article about recent gentrification in Denver, Colorado, and how intended plans to preserve a neighborhood have unintended consequences of forcing out the population. As we know, gentrification is a very pressing issue that relates to the ideas we’ve been looking at in our class of people being unfairly relocated as a result of urban planning. Interestingly enough, although we’ve been talking a lot about gentrification in our own city, we haven’t discussed problems that arise in other communities as much. This gentrification in Denver, is just another recent example of gentrification, and it talks about how although efforts have been made to preserve the neighborhoods, the same efforts haven’t been made to preserve the people living there. This goes to show, that this is still a problem and not just in our city. I chose this article because it was relatively recent, written within the past month, which emphasizes that this is still happening. Continue reading “The Consequences of Urban Planning”