New York City’s constant population growth and increasing diversity are forcing development to keep pace. “You don’t build for now,” the saying goes. “You build for five, seven, 10 years down the road.” If that’s the case, our city will only have more residential towers, office buildings, infrastructure upgrades, school construction and retail development for the foreseeable future.
The problem is this: Not all development is equal. Some of it is done well and welcomed by the surrounding community; some is met by (sometimes severe) community opposition. In many cases this negativity is unjustified, motivated by an unreasonable “not in my backyard” attitude. But sometimes it’s based on appropriate concerns.
Consider 1 Brooklyn Bay, in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. This 30-story residential tower is by far the tallest building of all the surrounding neighborhoods, four times taller than any other buildings nearby. It is a mixed condo and rental development that has area residents—who live in co-op or rental apartment buildings, or in private homes—calling it “a monstrosity.”
Priced far higher than other rentals or purchases in the area, this luxury high-rise is the first of what will likely be many more in the area, each also likely to face stiff opposition. Given that their neighborhood is residential and very far from the crowded Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn skylines, Sheepshead Bay residents make a strong case for no more buildings like 1 Brooklyn Bay.
A massive mixed-use development on 8th Avenue at 62nd Street on the border of Sunset Park and North Dyker Heights, not far from Borough Park, has been discussed for several years—and has also met with community opposition most of the way. It was originally slated to be the location of a Home Depot before the bottom fell out of the market. The revised model is a nearly city-block–size project, and is slated to include at least two towers of apartments, offices and hotels, built above a retail base foundation.
A recent report issued by the Fund for the Advancement of New York City presented several concerns for this large project, from infrastructure (How are people getting there and around? Where are they parking? Which schools are they using?) to whether the overall development fits with the surrounding communities’ character. Reading between the lines, it’s possible to see some anti-Asian bias: The development area has become popular with Chinese families and businesses, causing longtime residents to worry that this part of Brooklyn will become unrecognizable to them.
If the Sheepshead Bay project was about the physical landscape of a neighborhood, the Sunset Park development is about diversity and changing demographics. This development is smack in the middle of rapidly growing Jewish and Chinese communities—and competing public and private interests—in an already-dense area. As such, the revamped proposal looks to have an uphill road ahead of it. It will be up to the various stakeholders and community leaders to walk the fine line of providing value to the investors, and delivering what is best for the community, in a thoughtful argument to the local interests, the area community board, public officials and opinion-shapers throughout Brooklyn, and the wider city—and then to City Hall directly.
Proposals for new use of the sprawling armory building in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights have sparked heated, important discussions of gentrification, and are at the heart of the “responsible and sustainable growth” trend currently on the tip of most community leaders’ and stakeholders’ tongues these days regarding large-scale developments in New York City. The most recent plans for redevelopment of the armory face opposition from Brooklyn’s elected class, as well as from a majority of community groups in and around the site. Opponents now include Borough President Eric Adams, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, Public Advocate Tish James and others.
As developments go, the proposed mockup for the armory was Xanadu-size in scale. Boldfaced names like Carmelo Anthony, among others, gave the plans local credibility and pizzazz. However, feedback from community leaders was key in delaying, and ultimately killing, the new design for the historic Crown Heights facility.
Large development projects raise issues that reflect what our city is about, how it sees itself and what it aspires to be.