The Battle for Atlantic Yards comes to Penn, bookended with megaproject forums

via Plan Philly: http://planphilly.com/eyesonthestreet/2012/01/09/the-battle-for-atlantic-yards-comes-to-penn-bookended-with-megaproject-forums/

Development can make for sensational drama, which is just what the the docu-musical, In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards promises for its 16-show run at Penn’s Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

In the Footprint follows the polarizing issue of Brooklyn’s huge, controversial Atlantic Yards development as it transpired through political channels, developer maneuvers, the use of eminent domain, and emotional neighborhood opposition. In the Footprint will premiere in Philadelphia with its run at the Annenberg Center’s Harold Prince Theater January 18-29, by The Civilians.

PennDesign will bookend the performances with two community forums called, Megaprojects: Can we balance individual and social good?, featuring Penn faculty members in conversation with developers, real estate experts, politicians, and journalists. The two discussions are free for In the Footprint ticket holders, and are as follows:

  • January 17, 7pm. PennDesign, Meyerson Hall, Lower Gallery, 210 S. 34th Street. John Landis, chair of Penn’s Department of City and Regional Planning, will moderate this panel discussion on the history and long-controversial politics of major urban projects, featuring Penn’s own Marilyn Jordan Taylor (Dean of PennDesign); Eugenie Birch (Professor, Urban Research & Education); Laura Wolf-Powers (Assistant Professor, City & Regional Planning) ; Susan Wachter (Professor, Real Estate & Finance); and Paulette Adams (People’s Emergency Center CDC); and Jim Burnett (Executive Director of the West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution).
  • January 31, 7pm.  Annenberg Center, Room 511. Engage with fellow community members, stakeholders, and developers with Philadelphia ties on issues raised in the play. Participants include former Mayor John Streetdeveloper Bart Blatstein, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Alan Greenberger, and WHYY’s Chris Satullo. The panel will be moderated by journalist Heshimu JaramojiHarris Steinberg, Executive Director of PennPraxis, and Harris Sokoloff, Director of Penn Project for Civic Engagement will organize small group discussions.

Tickets start at $20 and are available through the Annenberg Center’s box office or online.

Thanks to the Annenberg Center, Eyes on the Street is giving away two pairs of tickets to see In the Footprint, which will also get you into the panel discussions.  Enter to win tickets by emailing eots[at]planphilly.com by 5pm on Friday, January 13 with “Megaproject” in the subject line. One pair is for opening night, January 18 (followed by a post-show talk with Michael Friedman who wrote the music and lyrics) and the other is for Friday, January 20 (followed by a post-show talk with Marion Friedman Young, The Civilians managing director and Elaine Simon of Penn’s Urban Studies program). Winners will be notified by Saturday, January 14

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NYT Review: In the Footprint

Theater Review | ‘In the Footprint’

A Brooklyn Civics Lesson, Offered in Word and Song

By CHARLES ISHERWOOD
Published: November 23, 2010

As subjects for musical comedy go, it would be hard to fathom anything less promising than the legal intricacies of the concept of eminent domain. Or, for that matter, the socioeconomic diversity of the crazy quilt of Brooklyn neighborhoods. The great Stephen Sondheim himself might find it tricky work to make lyrical magic of the relationships among the various civic entities charged with approving land-use deals in New York City.

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

From left, Greg McFadden, Billy Eugene Jones and Colleen Werthmann of the Civilians. Yet these matters are rhapsodized in song with style and wit in the spirited new show from the Civilians, “In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards,” which opened on Monday night at the Irondale Arts Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, within a demolition ball’s swing of the site in contention.

The title may sound like a dissertation submitted by a budding sociologist — subtitles are not too inviting on a theater marquee — but don’t let that deter you. This simple, scruffy-looking but smartly put-together production, written and directed by Steve Cosson and featuring songs by Michael Friedman (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”), is as fresh, inventive and frankly as entertaining as any new work of musical theater to open this fall. (No, this isn’t saying all that much, but never mind.)

Read more here: http://theater.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/theater/reviews/24footprint.html

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What Went Wrong With “Atlantic Yards?”

Posted on 7/15/10 for NYCArchitecture.com

An Interview With Kent Barwick, President of the Municipal Art Society.

“There is disappointment, annoyance, and anger because there hasn’t been any way for anyone to have a voice. Who is listening to the people living around Atlantic Yards?”

With the Pataki Adminstration scrambling to beat the buzzer and win approval for Forest City Enterprise’s “Atlantic Yards” mega-project before the inauguration of Governor-Elect Eliot Spitzer, journalist Ezra Goldstein talks to Municipal Art Society President Kent Barwick about the problems that arise when communities are locked out of the development process in their own neighborhoods.

Municipal Art Society President Kent Barwick has been attacked for not condemning Forest City Enterprises plan to drop 17 high rises and a 19,000-seat basketball arena in the middle of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. He has also been criticized for being too concerned about process when, say his critics, the basic concepts behind the immense Atlantic Yards project are fatally flawed. To Barwick, however, process is paramount, and Atlantic Yards is the poster child for what goes wrong when process is ignored.

Barwick says that the people of Brooklyn and their elected representatives have been shut out of planning for Atlantic Yards and all major decisions have been made behind closed doors. The result is a poorly designed project that has polarized the community and that squanders both opportunity and public trust.

The project can be saved, he says, but only if people are given the chance not just to speak but to be heard. That would happen if the state recognizes that, properly, its client at Atlantic Yards is the citizens and government of New York City, not a private developer.

That is no radical notion, argues Barwick. It is law and policy embedded in regulations and the city charter, thanks in large part to agreements he and the MAS helped hammer out two decades ago after a prolonged battle with the Koch administration over the proposed sale to a private developer of publicly owned land on Columbus Circle.

The city, says Barwick, is obligated to solicit ideas from the public, develop a master plan, put out an RFP (a request for proposals) and then consider bids from several developers before it can give up a significant piece of land. More public hearings follow before construction is allowed to begin. It may be a cumbersome and imperfect process, Barwick admits, but in project after project, the end result has been far superior to the initial concept.

At Atlantic Yards, a private company developed plans for the 22-acre site before Brooklyn’s communities had a chance to say a word, and long before a token RFP was issued. The community boards, guaranteed participation in neighborhood planning in the 1975 and 1989 revisions to the city charter, were completely shut out of the process, as were Brooklyn’s democratically elected City Council members. The developer never publicly asked the advice of the highly capable (and taxpayer funded) staff at the Department of City Planning which had just completed a major rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn adjacent to the project’s footprint.

To read more: http://nyc-architecture.com/?p=1033

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Here in Philly: The Reading Viaduct

December 16, 2011 12:48 pm

Ashley Hahn for Plan Philly

I was surprised to hear City Council unanimously vote in favor of the Callowhill Reading Viaduct Neighborhood Improvement District on Thursday. As Jared Brey reported on PlanPhilly, property owners within the NID submitted enough to constitute a majority in opposition to the district effectively killing it. But those letters apparently still have to be verified.

Councilman Frank DiCicco told PlanPhilly, “I’ve never seen a petition not have some irregularities.” So Council voted to approve the NID in case there are not enough valid signatures against the NID.

Proposed Boundaries of Callowhill NID

Should it come to pass, the NID would fund public improvements within the district through an additional 7% property tax. The tax, and questions about who will decide how that money is spent and on what projects drove the opposition. Wrapped up in all of the NID debate is the Reading Viaduct – it’s the proxy for a host of tensions in a contested neighborhood. Even though the NID originally included the creation of a linear park along the viaduct as a project, the issue proved too divisive to keep associated with the NID’s official purpose. So what of the Reading Viaduct?

Click to read more: http://planphilly.com/eyesonthestreet/2011/12/16/whither-the-reading-viaduct-wrapped-in-the-callowhill-nid/

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University City: Friends of 40th Street gathers community stakeholders

November 11, 2011

By Kara Savidge
For PlanPhilly

In the rapidly changing neighborhood surrounding 40th Street, a variety of stakeholders have emerged with answers to the question of future development.

The corridor not only presents and continues to generate opportunity for a critical commercial and transportation thoroughfare, but also connects the surrounding neighborhoods. Said neighborhoods sit both old and new — with newer development comprising University City, budding from the growth of nearby Drexel University and University of Pennsylvania.

Marcus Mays, a longtime resident of 40th Street, said that he the area has been significantly cleaned up. However, he said that as soon as you cross Lancaster Avenue, it’s a “whole other world.”
 
 

Harris Steinberg, the director of PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, said they were asked by the university to look at the 40th Street corridor.

“The goal was with the down economy, before the market picks up again, to get ahead of questions about development, scale, pedestrian character in a way that is constructive as opposed to tension around a specific development project,” Steinberg said. “They came to us to really see if we could help shape a conversation around this.”

The result was the Friends of 40th Street — a coalition of citizens and institutional presences, among community development corporations and community groups. Beyond the work by PennPraxis, University City District and Sustainable Communities Initiative-West both made significant contributions to the project, which focuses on 40th Street from Baltimore Avenue in the south to Lancaster Avenue.

Click here to continue reading.

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Brooklyn at Eye Level

Check out this video from Brooklyn at Eye Level, The Civilians’ workshop version of In the Footprint

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NYT Review of In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards

November 23, 2010
The New York Times

 

Theater Review | ‘In the Footprint’

A Brooklyn Civics Lesson, Offered in Word and Song

By CHARLES ISHERWOOD

Published: November 23, 2010

As subjects for musical comedy go, it would be hard to fathom anything less promising than the legal intricacies of the concept of eminent domain. Or, for that matter, the socioeconomic diversity of the crazy quilt of Brooklyn neighborhoods. The great Stephen Sondheim himself might find it tricky work to make lyrical magic of the relationships among the various civic entities charged with approving land-use deals in New York City.

Yet these matters are rhapsodized in song with style and wit in the spirited new show from the Civilians, “In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards,” which opened on Monday night at the Irondale Arts Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, within a demolition ball’s swing of the site in contention.

The title may sound like a dissertation submitted by a budding sociologist — subtitles are not too inviting on a theater marquee — but don’t let that deter you. This simple, scruffy-looking but smartly put-together production, written and directed by Steve Cosson and featuring songs by Michael Friedman (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”), is as fresh, inventive and frankly as entertaining as any new work of musical theater to open this fall. (No, this isn’t saying all that much, but never mind.)

The Civilians have employed the company’s traditional modus operandi in assembling this collage of fact, opinion and passionate feeling concerning the drawn-out conflict over the redevelopment of the Vanderbilt Yards near downtown Brooklyn. (Not in downtown Brooklyn, as one of the aggrieved residents makes clear.) The text of the show is drawn from the company’s two years of research.

Mr. Friedman’s deft, cabaret-style songs are often original — people do not speak in lyrics, after all — but Mr. Cosson’s text consists exclusively of verbatim testimony. Some of it comes from public statements from the city officials and business executives with a master plan to remake the site as a grand urban mini-metropolis surrounding a gleaming new basketball arena. The rest is culled from interviews with the smaller fry who mustered a contentious public protest at what they saw as an ugly, bulging blight on the surrounding neighborhoods.

It is not hard to discern where the sympathies of the show’s creators ultimately lie. Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president who was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the multibillion-dollar redevelopment proposal, is depicted as a yapping basketball. Frank Gehry, the renowned architect whose signature pencil-shaving design for the arena is represented by a twirling disco ball, is heard pontificating fatuously about his “iconic” buildings in Spain and Los Angeles and the tower he refers to as “Miss Brooklyn,” one of more than a dozen in the original plans.

As for Bruce Ratner, the prominent developer behind the project — let’s just say that should anyone offer Mr. Ratner a pair of tickets to the show, he would be wise to decline. Mr. Ratner might be marginally more welcome at a Nets game in New Jersey this season. (The development plan hinged, you’ll recall, on relocating that basketball team to Brooklyn.)

But “In the Footprint” does not dramatize its subject matter as a simple David and Goliath story (albeit one with a different ending). The voices of a wide spectrum of interested parties are included, with the cast of characters ranging from boldface names like Michael R. Bloomberg and Jay-Z and Jonathan Lethem, to the community leaders on both sides of the controversy, to the neighborhood dwellers whose houses and livelihoods are at stake.

From the Babel of contrasting opinions and arguments emerges an edifying if not always cheering lesson in the way that cities and cultures evolve, and the way the balance of power between the mighty brokers of New York and its unmonied citizens does not. “In the Footprint” also illuminates how the changing demographics of the neighborhood have informed (and inflamed) the relationships between the black and white populations and how the redevelopment plan sowed division among the area’s black residents.

This may make the show sound like a civics class with songs in place of pop quizzes, which in some sense it is. But this seminar is delivered not by a droning lecturer but by a chorus of distinctive voices: impassioned, cynical, outraged, aggrieved, but always bristling with personality. New Yorkers to the core, in other words.

The particularity of each is captured with vivid precision by a terrific cast of six. Colleen Werthmann, a Civilians veteran, is memorable as the feisty Patti Hagan, half of a politically engaged sister act who personally went door to door to conduct an informal census proving that more than 800 people lived within the “footprint” of the planned development, not the 100 Mr. Ratner had blithely estimated. Greg McFadden portrays the determined Daniel Goldstein, one of the last holdouts among those eventually bought out by the developers, who is nudged into advocacy unwillingly and offers the startling news that “no elected official ever voted” on the plan.

Donnetta Lavinia Grays burns with righteous indignation as Bertha Lewis, a community leader who staunchly supported the project, delivering a fiery tirade against the “gentrifiers” who oppose it. She is the temperamental opposite of Simone Moore’s Brooklyn city councilwoman, Tish James, who fights the plan with an air of reasoned, implacable rectitude.

As Ken Fisher, a longstanding Brooklyn councilman, Matthew Dellapina delivers one of Mr. Friedman’s funniest songs, in which the borough is sliced up into four demographic sectors, but not the ones you’d expect. One — the more upscale neighborhoods stretching between Greenpoint and Red Hook — he simply calls “Manhattan.”

Billy Eugene Jones dances nimbly among his various roles, which range from the soberly supportive local figure James Caldwell, who calls Mr. Ratner “an angel sent from heaven,” to an elderly security guard who refuses to give his opinion on any of these matters unless the interviewers pony up some cash. “Not-for-profit?” he asks skeptically. “What that mean?”

The songs, mostly solos, serve as connective tissue, lightening the mood and providing a nice contrast in texture to the talking-head testimonials. But they, too, are information-packed, wry little tone poems made of found materials, setting arcane data to sprightly melodies played by the music director Kris Kukul.

“In the Footprint,” with its informal, bare-bones presentation and almost improvisational air, does not really rely on any of the traditional blandishments of musical theater. There is nothing resembling a fully staged or choreographed musical number, and no soaring songs about chasing your dreams or finding that one true love. (I don’t want to mislead lovers of old-school Broadway musicals, or, perhaps more pertinently, scare away civic-minded people allergic to them.)

But there is a chorus on hand, at least briefly. This being Brooklyn, it is an assembly of bloggers, all with firm opinions on the matters at hand. Which does not mean that they can be bothered to get out of their bathrobes.

IN THE FOOTPRINT

The Battle Over Atlantic Yards

Written and directed by Steve Cosson; music and lyrics by Michael Friedman; sets by Andromache Chalfant; costumes by Chloe Chapin; lighting by Lucrecia Briceño; sound by Shane Rettig; video and projections by Jeanette Yew; music direction by Kris Kukul; production manager, Nathan Lemoine; production stage manager, Terri Kohler. Produced in association with the Exchange NYC; presented by the Civilians, Mr. Cosson, artistic director; Marion Friedman, managing director, in association with the Irondale Center. At the Irondale Center, 85 South Oxford Street, at Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn; (866) 811-4111, irondale.org. Through Dec. 11. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

WITH: Matthew Dellapina (Ken Fisher/Sal Zarzana/Scott Turner), Donnetta Lavinia Grays (Bertha Lewis/Shabnam Merchant/Esther Kelly), Billy Eugene Jones (James Caldwell/Jerry Campbell/Tracy Collins), Greg McFadden (Jim Vogel/Daniel Goldstein/Jonathan Lethem), Simone Moore (Tish James/Kyiesha Kelly) and Colleen Werthmann (Patti Hagan/Jezra Kaye).

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