Once heralded as a "Garden of Eden" in Brooklyn by New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp, Atlantic Yards is becoming meaningfully less green step by step.
In what is a big loss for nearby residents, next week Forest City Ratner will remove 20 street trees on the northside of Pacific Street between 6th and Carlton to facilitate construction in the area. The photo to the right was taken this summer. No date has been provided for when they will be restored.
Forest City Ratner received a permit from the Parks Department in 2008 to remove 86 existing street trees in the public way inside the project footprint including the 20 trees on Pacific Street. A Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods FOIL at the time brought both the permit and a debate over restitution between the Parks Department and Forest City Ratner to light. FCRC initially asked for the financial restitution they were required to pay to be waived in lieu of the greater number of trees they said they were to plant with the project. In the end the Parks Department reduced the cost of restitution by the value of 116 street trees they were told would be planted on the project perimeter.
While the Parks Department has confirmed it recently updated this permit, it is not currently known to what extent it has been modified to take into account the changes to the project construction timetable, construction sequence, and phasing of property ownership made in 2009. The area where the trees on Pacific Street are located was originally anticipated to be the first area of the second phase of the project to be constructed. However, in October 2012, FCRC Executive Vice President MaryAnne Gilmartin told investors that second phase construction would begin first on block 1129 (between Vanderbilt and Carlton Avenues, and Dean and Pacific Streets). Further, at the time the 2008 permit was granted, it was assumed the air rights over the railyard would already be owned by FCRC. Now MTA still retains those rights and FCRC is not obligated to purchase them.
This means FCRC has been given permission to cut street trees lining MTA property they do not control, and because the construction timetable for this area is indeterminate, they may leave a now green area destitute of trees for a long time. With the information currently available, the neighborhood character of the northside of Pacific Street is likely to join nearby 6th Avenue as victim of construction delay-induced blight at Atlantic Yards.
The arena block loses trees, too
The "temporary" loss of the trees on Pacific Street will be added to a recent reduction in the permanent number of trees on the Barclays Center block. In December, approximately five recently planted trees near the arena were removed, apparently at the request of NYPD due to concerns about pedestrian safety.
Eleven street trees and an empty bed are all that remain along Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Landscape architect Laurie Olin's original arena block plan details 31 trees along those two Avenues. Even taking into account the areas where construction is incomplete, there appears to be a significant reduction in viable locations for street trees adjacent to the arena. A representative from the Parks Department has confirmed with AYW it will allow FCRC to meet their permit obligations by planting trees on blocks near the project when the number of trees originally included in the permit does not fit into the public right of way around the project perimeter.
This reduction in permanent street trees, combined with the elimination of the private green arena roof and extended construction schedule means residents of the arena block will wait longer for fewer "green" amenities than planned in 2006 when the project was approved.
The removal of the street trees on the arena block due to concerns about pedestrian safety may be a sign project planners are being forced to confront the unanticipated consequences of changes to the arena block they made in 2009. The areas where at least some of the trees were removed is close to an exit at Dean Street and Flatbush which was never disclosed in project plans and never studied in any pedestrian analysis. Following events, this area has often been crowded. Besides changes to arena entrances and exits, other changes include narrower permanent sidewalks (especially along Dean Street), and the later construction of buildings on the arena block from the construction of the arena itself, forcing the closure of sidewalks and travel lanes. Each of these changes alters the behavior of pedestrians. Unless project planners adapt their plans to positively address these changes, there is a risk pedestrian safety and neighborhood character will continue to be pitted against each other with depressing consequences for the quality of life in the vicinity of the project
What of the rest of the project perimeter?
The 2008 Parks Department permit allowing FCRC to remove street trees was based upon Mr. Olin's plan . Following changes to the project made in 2009, many of the 116 street trees in the plans now lie in areas FCRC does not control and is in the position to choose to not develop. In the only area where construction is underway—the arena block—the number of street trees has already been reduced from what is shown in these plans. Many of the areas where the Parks Department has given permission for trees to be cut may not see construction for up to 25 years.