04 Jun The Orwellian Award
Next week the Municipal Arts Society is going to give their annual Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis Medal to Bruce Ratner and MaryAnne Gilmartin. This award was created to honor Ms. Onasis’ preservation efforts. Giving it to Bruce Ratner makes as little sense as giving President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Historic Districts council feels the same way.
“We claim no ownership of the Onassis name, though we do draw on her spirit,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a citywide preservation group. “To honor Forest City Ratner with an award named for someone so well known for fighting to preserve New York’s neighborhoods is just too much.”
In their article about the controversy the New York Times refers to the film as “critical of the Atlantic Yards project”. I don’t disagree that the film highlights the corruption that paved the way for the project, but I do take issue with the reductionist and dismissive nature of this definition. If one were to look at the overall coverage that the Times provided it would be easy to refer to that paper as a “cheerleader” for the project. However, I don’t think this kind of oversimplification is useful. The Times certainly printed some simplistic and supportive pieces. However, they also published some pieces that included the opposition to the project. It could be argued though, that since the New York Times partnered with Bruce Ratner, and used eminent domain to seize land from another developer to build their new headquaters, that they might have tried to be a little bit more critical in their coverage.
Our film is as much about examining how stories move through the world as it is about the Atlantic Yards project. The project itself was launched with a massive press conference that put the project on a fast track towards approval. Public opinion was essential to that process. The Times covered this press conference and ran an article on Dec 11, 2003 with the headline “Courtside Seats to an Urban Garden“. The first line was “A garden of Eden grows in Brooklyn”. Here’s the rest.
A Garden of Eden grows in Brooklyn. This one will have its own basketball team. Also, an arena surrounded by office towers; apartment buildings and shops; excellent public transportation; and, above all, a terrific skyline, with six acres of new parkland at its feet. Almost everything the well-equipped urban paradise must have, in fact.
Without this kind of media onslaught, focusing on all the potential upsides of the project, it is highly unlikely that the public support would have been there to prop up the political support, which made it possible for everyone to look the other way as the corruption train chugged down the track.
If I sound frustrated, I am. When our film came out it was almost impossible for reviewers and residents to see past the image that was expertly crafted by the developer and their partners in government. Anyone raising questions about the project was seen as a naysayer and a malcontent standing in the way of progress. 11 and a half years after the lofty predictions of a 10 year build out the reality is stark and it is ugly. Out of the 16 buildings that were projected to be built in the 10 year time line, one has been started. One only needs to look at Norman Oder’s tireless reporting on the reality to see that no amount of lipstick on this pig can hide the lies and broken promises. I’m not going to bother to list them here. Instead I ask you to spend a few minutes simply reading Norman’s round up analysis of the systemic corruption of the project.
At the end of our film, at the ground breaking ceremony for the project, Mayor Bloomberg intones, “No one’s going to remember how long it took. They’re just going to look and see that it was done.” This is how powerful people view history. It’s depressing to view in the film, because we can’t help but think that he’s right. However, little pushbacks, like this screening and discussion give me hope that our history doesn’t have to just be given over to those in power.