Sunday Open Thread: Jay-Z on the Subway

Jay-Z’s ride on the subway is obviously a stunt — the video itself illustrates why his regular use of it would be totally impractical — but the interaction with Ellen Grossman, who turns out to be a big-shot in the art world, is a nice little parable about the irreplaceable benefits of density and its handmaiden, public transportation.

There was some idle speculation that, thanks to the chance meeting on the subway, Grossman is now open to the idea of collaborating with Jay-Z somehow. Who knows if anything will come of it, but it still illustrates the point: people from different fields mashed together, not isolated in their own climate-controlled steel boxes, form new connections and cross-pollinate with new ideas.




Comments

    • Martin H. Duke says

      I believe that is one of several theories about his name that are listed on Wikipedia.

      • d.p. says

        Wikipedia explains the three contributing etymological strands, but the way New Yorkers pronounce the name of the line — “J/Z” — is phonetically identical to his final chosen moniker. This is not accidental.

      • Kyle S. says

        Well, it’s also pronounced “thajayanthazee”, or perhaps “where the @#$! is the train this entire line is is the MTA’s neglected bastard child I’m gonna be late for work”.

      • d.p. says

        “thajayanthazee”

        Never heard that before. Every New Yorker I’ve ever known, of every age, race, tenure, and borough of residence calls it “the J/Z” by default, and has ever since the skip-stop service was implemented in the late ’80s.

  1. Sam says

    Question for everyone. How often do you strike-up conversations with strangers on public transportation? How many times a year do you start talking to people you don’t know on the bus or train in order to get to know someone new or to form a new connection? Once a year? Ten times a year? Never? I’ll start. I never do it, and it’s never been done to me. The few times I can recall someone striking up a conversation with me out of the blue it’s been a negative experience. They’ve either been drunk or mentally ill. The last time for me it was on a downtown bus and a man talking about how he hated white people then tried to start a fight with me.

    Asking, or giving someone the time of day doesn’t count. Neither does asking or giving directions, or small talk about where to catch what bus and where. Nor does buses or trains packed with people going to sporting events. International travel doesn’t count either.

    Along with your “I speak to strangers about 20 times a year on my bus” answer, I would also like to hear examples of how you get the conversation going and what you talk about.

    • asdf says

      I have struck up conversations with strangers on the bus and waiting for the bus lots of times. As long as you look and sound like a reasonable person, not someone whose mentally ill, and pick a person to talk to who looks reasonably competent, people are actually quite happy to talk.

      We’ve talked about a lot of things, for example, bus strategies to get from this place to that place, our jobs, traffic, what we do for fun, you name it. Once, I even got an invitation to a Thanksgiving party from someone I met on the bus.

      Obviously, some people do not want to talk and it’s important to respect their wishes, but I’ve found that to happen a lot less often than one might think.

      • Charles says

        The most interesting and satisfying thing about riding public transit for me is the opportunity to be of assistance to people. Many many times in my travels, I am asked a question about transit, how to get some place, how something works. In the past 2 years for example, I’ve helped 2 German tourist who thought walking from the Othello Link Station to the Museum of Flight was a practical option to take Link and Metro to get there. I’ve met and had a great conversation with a (presumably) wealthy Mexican family going from Sea-Tac to their Alaska Cruise ship. I reassured a traveler about Link’s proof of payment procedures and discovered during our amiable conversation that he was a senior manager in NOAA.

        The opportunity for serendipity abounds by riding public transit. (You can quote me on that)

      • Michael Ragsdale says

        I’ve found numerous times where the driver isn’t familiar with how to get somewhere, and there is usually (at least) one passengers who knows.

        I’ve witnessed too where another passenger offers to help, and the person asking insists on hearing it from the driver (even if the driver does not know)

      • Cinesea says

        I’ve almost never had conversations on a bus, but riding LINK, I’ve had quite a few. If I see someone with a tourist map, I may ask them what/where they are looking for and give them assistance if I can. Then, I will ask where they are from. I’ve ridden LINK a fraction of the times I’ve ridden a bus(live in Shoreline, so not much opportunity for LINK yet), but I’ve talked on LINK so much more so there must be something about a train that makes people more talk-y.

    • says

      “Who knows if anything will come of it, but it still illustrates the point: people from different fields mashed together, not isolated in their own climate-controlled steel boxes, form new connections and cross-pollinate with new ideas.”

      Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea behind the above sentence, but it’s been my experience that this is more fantasy than reality. Strangers don’t talk to each other on public transportation. They don’t need to be in a car to separate themselves from others. Except for the mentally ill, drunks, and the deeply lonely, people create their own steel boxes on public transportation.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        I’m naturally an introvert, but I’ve found my kids to be a pretty good conversation starter on the train.
        Moreover, a more common interaction for me is to stumble upon acquaintances on transit, people I don’t check up on enough.

      • Kenny says

        Only times I’ve been bothered on buses by talkers it was either lunatics or middle aged, divorced women with too many cats and diverticulitis.

      • Seattleite says

        I don’t have kids, but I will agree with them being great conversation starters. The majority of my coversations with strangers happen b/c their child either says something to me, or does something that get’s others laughing or talking. I’ve also helped with my share of strollers, or picking up stuff that has been dropped by an overloaded parent.

      • z7 says

        I’ve had great opportunities to practice my smalltalk skills on buses! (I am an introvert, but I find one-on-one conversation pretty energy-neutral) I met a guy who graduated from the same program as my deskfriend at work; last summer I sat next to a person, and ever since we’ve been facebook chatting. This Christmas we did a book exchange (Phantom Tollbooth for The Signal and the Noise)!

        But more effective is the shared experience of waiting for / just barely missing buses: a guy and I both came off the 545 and barely missed an 8: he was going to a women’s basketball game and I needed to get to the ballet, so we talked all the way there. There’s also Alex, who goes from Burien to Bellevue and waits with me at Evergreen Point for the 271.

        I proffer that people who believe that strangers don’t talk to strangers are folks who themselves don’t talk to strangers and, nonverbally or verbally, preclude themselves from the experience. And this is fine: of course people should have the right to be left alone if they choose! But the right to be unbothered doesn’t mean that public transit doesn’t facilitate friendly bus-chats for those who welcome them.

    • Adam Parast says

      I talk to people on the bus much more often then I talk to people in another car when I’m driving.

      • Jim Cusick says

        I’m always talking to people in other cars… and it’s a good thing they can’t hear me. (or read lips)

    • Matt the Engineer says

      I think how often you interact with others is different on commuter lines vs. city buses. There are certain buses I hop on and there’s already a sense of community – people chatting as a group about one issue or another. And that’s how many of my interactions on buses have been – when some conversation wanders into an area I can usefully contribute to, I often do.

      Oh, and it’s rare that I don’t have conversations with other bus riders when I ride anywhere with my son. Children are natural conversation starters, and he often talks to other riders.

    • says

      If you ever want to have a conversation on public transportation just carry a large format painting of something with you and people can’t resist asking you questions. I had a large painting of different areas of Paris and had 1 hr of interesting conversation with different people as they got on and off the bus.

    • David L says

      Michael Ragsdale, I’ve seen that too, both as the passenger who does know the way and the driver who doesn’t. It’s like people think random strangers on the bus are trying to screw with them.

      Sam, as a passenger, I’m a pretty private person. I almost never strike up conversations. As a driver, I did it more often, but only when there weren’t *any* head cases on the bus. If they’re around, and they observe that the driver is sociable, they want to start a free therapy session immediately.

    • says

      1. Why don’t vehicles full of people heading to and from sporting events count?

      2. I don’t have conversations every time I get on the bus or something, but it happens occasionally. I’m pretty introverted and don’t start conversations often, but when I wear my Illinois hoodie sometimes other Illinoisans start conversations with me. When I take the bus to some distant place and run home from there, people talk to me because I’m wearing running gear; if I wear a bowtie somewhere I get comments on the bowtie. I often talk with other cyclists when shuttling my bike across 520, and bus drivers often strike up conversations on the deadheading commuter buses that shuttle cyclists across the lake… one pointed out the eagles in Portage Bay, which I hadn’t known about. Often in the morning people on buses just talk about what a glorious morning it is. That’s worth doing whether it’s novel or not.

      And I’ve had some weird conversations, too. The guy on the CT 120 repeatedly asking rapidfire nonsensical questions about my computer. Sometimes drunk and mentally ill people talk to me (that’s not always a bad thing; sometimes people just need someone to listen to them, and I try to do that). I’ve had some annoying and mildly unpleasant conversations, and witnessed some weird stuff, but nothing aggressive directed at me. I understand women tend to have more trouble with that, which reflects on our society as a whole, things we all need to work on.

    • East Coast Cynic says

      It’s usually either responding to a question about service or commenting about some problem on the road that is slowing bus travel. But never any conversational dialogue. I’m either too tired or dreading the day when going to work and tired of dealing with other human beings when riding home from work.

      Jay is lucky that he didn’t catch a train that was packed to the gills as it can be in NYC and wouldn’t afford him a seat to chillax and talk with the proles.

  2. asdf says

    Which bus route you take probably has a lot to do with the potential for finding decent conversation. My bus consists of mostly Microsoft employees, which greatly improves the odds. I suspect the likelihood of finding good conversation on the 7, 106, or 150 would be a lot less. I rode the 150 once and got the uncomfortable feeling that at least half the people on the bus were either homeless, mentally ill, or both, and that the next time I needed to make this trip, I would probably rent a car or take a cab. Although that was 6:30 on a Sunday morning, so maybe during normal commute hours, it’s better.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      I’m sure at least one of the good bus conversations I’ve had is with the homeless. Being poor doesn’t mean being uninteresting.

    • Cinesea says

      When I used to ride the 358, I thought it was full of crazies. But, then I started riding during commute hours and was surprised at the difference. Instead of ripped and smelly clothes, there were suits. I still ride the 5 more often and feel a lot better when I ride it and its nice to see the diversity on it. People of all ages, families, people riding solo and couples riding and talking.

    • David L says

      As a relatively privileged white person I have rather little in common with most of the riders of the 7, 106, or 358. But there are all sorts of conversations on those buses. The hardest I’ve laughed on a bus recently was at a guy on the 7 who was doing all kinds of crazy impressions. Everyone on that bus was talking, and I got the sense that most of the riders knew each other.

      The route where I feel like most of the riders are mentally ill isn’t the 7 or the 358. It’s the routes that go through desperately disconnected, very poor areas in the suburbs. The 105, the 148, and the old 151 (now the southernmost portion of the 180) are the ones that come immediately to mind in that respect.

  3. John Bailo says

    Last time I was in Manhattan (2011) the subway was much more relaxed, even jovial.

    Growing up it was verboten to make eye contact when I rode the E or F from Kew Gardens into The City. I always stared at the backlit ads running near the top of the car and hoped the crazy guy wouldn’t pick on me.

    I won’t even mention the A from Aqueduct…

    • Charles says

      I had an F train experience that was bizarre. The trains back then were configured with some seats diagonal to each other. This one man, got on the train, set down diagonal to me and proceeded to stare silently at me with a stern face. The train was not overly crowded so he could have conformed to convention and set a respectable distance from others but no, he had to come and sit right by me.

      Needless to say after about 10 minutes I became unnerved and got up and moved. This guy reminded me of the trainman character from Ghost.

    • East Coast Cynic says

      It sounds like you weren’t riding during the rush hour—in the morning at least.

      • John Bailo says

        Afternoon in the summer and at night just after Fourth of July…stayed in midtown Double Tree. Took the Lex lines up and down. Even at night, never felt so safe.

  4. John Bailo says

    DOE Report: Fuel Cell Bus Fuel Economy Twice That of Conventional Diesel

    The US Department of Energy recently published a report titled Fuel Cell Buses in the U.S. Transit Fleet: Current Status 2012 which finds the fuel economy for fuel cell buses to be twice that of diesel.

    Based upon a one year study of a fuel cell electric vehicle fleet, the report finds fuel cell electric buses to boast a fuel economy of 1.8 to 2 times more than conventional diesel buses and compressed natural gas buses.

    http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/news-events/news-archive/2013/january/doe-report-fuel-cell-bus-fuel-economy-twice-that-of-conventional-diesel

    • Charles says

      Thanks for the link. Beginning on page 11, the report shows that King County Metro was one of the pioneers in the adoption of Diesel Electric Hybrids and that apparently the fuel economy improvement is in the 30% range over conventional Diesel buses.

      The report also measures the service call incidents for each class of propulsion and it seems the Fuel Cell Electric Bus would win in both the economy (1.8 times Diesel bus) and miles between service call. The challenges include cost of hydrogen storage (assuming that is the fuel of choice) and safety.

      • Bernie says

        Don’t forget the initial cost per bus is about 3X more. It would never pay it’s way over the life of the bus and you’ve have 3X less vehicles on the road. Costs more, get less and it’s worse for the environment; what’s not to like?

      • John Bailo says

        That is true now, but right now they are basically made by hand.

        The cost goal from the DOE is $600,000 which with the fuel savings, decreased pollution and the ability to generate the hydrogen locally at no cost would be a benefit.

        I think ultimately the cost of a fuel cell bus in mass production would be lower in build and maintenance. Thing about it:

        1) No moving parts in the engine for wear and tear.

        2) Lighter in weight than a battery. A battery scales linearly with capacity.

        3) Costs are starting to come down already as we look at reducing expensive metals with cheaper cobalt alloys.

        http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2012/10/catalyst

      • Bernie says

        There’s no such thing as free hydrogen. It’s expensive to make, it’s expensive to compress and it’s expensive to transport. A fuel cell is lighter than batteries for a given range but it’s always going to be much heavier and complex than overhead wire. All fuel cell buses have batteries anyway just like a hybrid to handle peak loads.

        No moving parts in the engine for wear and tear.

        A fuel cell in mobile applications only lasts about 2 years. And they’re far from maintenance free. They generate a tremendous amount of heat as they’re only 50% efficient. And of course there’s still the electric motor that makes the wheels on the bus go round and round.

    • David L says

      Don’t forget we’re not using “conventional” diesel buses anymore. We’re using hybrids, which get about 30% better fuel economy in city service (the difference is much less in freeway service), plus save quite a bit on engine, transmission, and brake maintenance.

      • Charles says

        Yes, the page #’s I reference included a discussion of the hybrid buses and the differences in efficiency and service costs. The FCEB was still significantly more efficient in both categories. As for its capital acquisition costs, as with any product the more we buy, the cheaper they get. Fuel production/storage is an externality that would have to be accounted for but I think this region with its abundance of non-carbon based electricity could utilize that to create this fuel.

        I like the idea of FCEB’s simply because they completely replace the internal combustion cycle in regular or hybrid diesels. Also, we would want to compare the capital cost of these buses versus running and maintaining overhead wires for hundreds of miles of roadway.

        The ultimate cost to apply is the cost of not polluting. If a FCEB bus costs more than a diesel bus then the difference in cost is your cost of pollution. We have to start paying that going forward.

      • Bernie says

        If a FCEB bus costs more than a diesel bus then the difference in cost is your cost of pollution.

        The energy used to create and distribute the hydrogen could have been used to directly offset carbon based energy sources. The huge inefficiency of the fuel cell fallacy is an ignored externality. Then there’s the direct venting of hydrogen to the atmosphere which is unavoidable and a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

      • Charles says

        How much energy does it take to make 1 gallon of gasoline? How much water? How much to transport, store it, distribute it?

        If hydrogen can be made from renewable forms of energy such as wind or solar, then even if it isn’t a particularly efficient process, it can’t be any worse than the production cycle of oil to gasoline including its externalities. I’m betting it is or will be far better and certainly wrt the big concern about carbon emissions it will be vastly superior. The plus side is we would have an energy storage medium that does not add net carbon to the atmosphere. Of course it is a volatile gas which presents certain risks in public use.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=YfTiRNzbSko

      • Bernie says

        Why is it so hard to grasp the fact that there is a demand for electricity. Over half of that demand is met by fossil fuel. What ever “green” electricity that is produce can be used 1:1 to replace coal and natural gas production or it can be used to feed increased demand. Using it to drive electric vehicles, either battery of grid is close to a 1:1 reduction of crude oil (might be slightly better). Hydrogen production might come close to 90%. It’s nowhere near that today. Compression eats up 35%, that’s with a perfect compressor. It’s energy input you never get back. Fuel cells are 50% efficient. They’ve been around for over 100 years and we’ve done extensive research on them for the space program. Not getting any better. Distribution is a huge loss as it takes 5X as many tanker trips as distributing gasoline. But even ruling that out entirely you still get back less than 30% of the initial input of electricity. The only way it ever could make sense is if we had a vast over abundance of carbon free electricity, which we don’t, not even here in Washington where PSE generates a 1/3 of it’s power from natural gas and a 1/3 from coal. If fuel cell vehicles were anywhere close to being viable manufacturers would use a reformer and drive the fuel cell directly from natural gas. But that would uncover the lie that says they can be “free energy”; run you car on sea water.

      • Bernie says

        The plus side is we would have an energy storage medium that does not add net carbon to the atmosphere.

        Of course if it were ever the case that we needed to store vast amounts of wind energy (far less than 1% of our total demand) and we totally maxed out the capacity for pumped hydro (yeah right) we could just make
        <a href="http://www.fraunhofer.de/en/press/research-news/2010/04/green-electricity-storage-gas.html"natural gas from water and CO2 in the atmosphere. Voilà, energy captured and used in our existing natural gas infrastructure. We could even put it back down in the shale from thence it came and reverse global warming. BTW, Germany doesn’t ever have an excess of wind generated electricity since they shut down their nuclear reactors following the Fukushima disaster. They just buy less nuclear generated electricity from France; go figure.

  5. Charles says

    I predict that Sean Carter and entourage will descend on this artist’s next showing and proceed to purchase everything in the gallery.

    • asdf says

      I wouldn’t read too much into the results. Usually on surveys like this, the people who were worse off with the changes feel pissed enough to fill out the survey, but the people who were better off with the changes don’t bother.

      • mdnative says

        True, but I have yet to hear/read about anyone who was pleased with the changes (here or in other news outlets).

      • Kevin R says

        The only thing I’ve heard folks consistently positive about is the new Ballard/Fremont connection on the 40.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        I’m more interested in ridership numbers for the whole WS-Ballard corridor, which should come out in late Feb. Angry people can whine all they want, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

      • J. Reddoch says

        Actually, I like the change. There are eight buses an hour between the International District and Fremont.

      • David L says

        People in Fremont loved the changes from the start. They got a new 40 and considerably rationalized and improved UW service on the 31 and 32.

        People in West Seattle seem to be coming around a bit.

        People in Ballard, on the other hand…

      • d.p. says

        Nobody rides RapidRide any more. It’s too crowded!

        Meh. I’ve already been on more than my share of single-digit-ridership RapidRides, even in the peak-shoulder periods or in the half-hourly night period.

        I’ve yet to be on an empty 40, even in the hourly period (it might be the best-used hourly bus on earth).

        Anecdotally, no one from Central Ballard or the 24th corridor walks to RapidRide, almost no one transfers to RapidRide, and RapidRide is not considered a primary Ballard spine.

        It has failed to expand the 15′s walkshed by one single lousy inch — it just isn’t fast, frequent, reliable, or direct enough to do so.

      • Eric Feiveson says

        My meetup group did a hike today that started and ended in Ballard. I carefully coordinated to the start time to line up with the 40, which is half-hourly on Sundays. I did not expect anyone to be coming by way of the D-line.

    • Charles says

      Oh my, those are some wicked comments. I must say there is no excuse for building a 21st century building and charging top drawer rents with quality like that. You should not expect to hear your neighbors or people walking around on the next floor.

      Unfortunately, cheap appliances are the norm in rental situations.

    • Bernie says

      That’s what happens when you try to get too far ahead of the curve. The new projects announced for Columbia City I’m sure will be much better (and more expensive). The plan was originally to sell these as condos. I’m sure that will happen eventually but until then they will put in the cheapest stuff possible because when they do the condo conversion it will all be gutted. For the next 10-20 years it’s likely to retain the college dorm atmosphere. Has any retail moved in on street level?

      • Charles says

        One Coffee/light meal place. 1 take out and 1 mexican restaurant are planned. It also looks like the property across the street (Citadel) may be getting ready to develop.

      • Butch says

        Charles,
        Do you know how much of the retail space in the building that coffee shop occupies? Mixed use – with its attendant higher cost as a consequence- seems to be failing in the RV. It’s not clear but the mixed use building on Rainier where the old Chubby and Tubby was seems to have no luck leasing its space out. Might be the price or the leadership issues with SEED.

      • Charles says

        No Don’t know the lease rates on the commercial space there. I’m not sure where the C & T was, I only knew of the one on North Aurora back in the day.

        I’m friendly with the owners of the cafe and they have mentioned some of the challenges including that they don’t have the necessary HVAC to provide a full service kitchen. But they are getting steady business and increasingly popular for informal meetings/meet-ups. Also a popular cop hangout.

        If STB wants to have a meet-up outside of downtown this would be a prime spot.

    • David L says

      I just moved out of The Station after living there for 9 months. Don’t take those reviews too seriously. I’d recommend it to anyone who is used to a city level of noise.

      Acoustics aren’t great, but they’re no worse than any other apartment building (and I’ve lived in plenty).

      The finishes are the same way.

      The management company is rapacious (they charge for everything), but the staff are very friendly and everything I needed got done.

      And as to the people complaining that they moved into “the ghetto”… I don’t even know what to say.

      • David L says

        Was temporarily “single” while my wife and I were working across the country from each other. Now she’s moved here (along with our rather large piano), and we wanted a house rather than a studio apartment.

      • East Coast Cynic says

        If it’s supposed to be a secure building and people who don’t live there are able to get in and bang on your door, I would find that very disconcerting, city level of noise or not. Sounds like Capitol Hill, with more color:).

      • David L says

        That never happened to me, and I wonder how they would pick one of several hundred identical doors to bang on.

        But security has the same issue as any large apartment building: it’s hard to keep people from following you, either through the front door or out the elevator door onto your floor.

    • Charles says

      Should I say it? This information gives rise to a legitimate challenge to increasing density. People don’t want to have to be bothered with other people living their lives. Regardless if they are simply walking around their space, watching TV, cooking a meal, exercising, or snoring, other people shouldn’t have to hear it. That should not be the fault of the occupants but a deficiency in design. Is this something that should be mandated? Otherwise, people will resist dense living.

      I know it’s possible because I spent several years living in a concrete high-rise building in Chicago that seemed to preclude noise between units or floors. The main noise issues there were from roadway/CTA train and construction/repair work on the building itself.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Seattle has pretty good sound transmission requirements for highrises. That said, more is always better and I’d welcome stricter standards. Noise is a big issue for some people, and it’s not something that is possible to research about an apartment or condo before moving in. Someone buying or renting in Seattle can be assured of fairly good sound insulation if moving in to any highrise built in at least the last few years (I don’t know what year sound transmission requirements were improved).

  6. d.p. says

    While there is a great deal to like about Jay-Z as an artist and a meta-chronicler of the fame experience — few in the history of music have had such a strong grasp of their own subject position or articulated it so lucidly — the unfortunate fact remains that the Atlantic Yards/Barclays Center project was a gigantic “fuck you” to both urbanism and democracy.

    His opportunistic role in selling the project (as its primary public face) may be irredeemable.

    • Charles says

      I’m not grokking this. Care to elaborate? What about this project is an affront to urbanism? It’s built in one of the most dense neighborhoods in the country, in the most populous city in the country. It’s built on top of that rail yard and is served by NINE subway/rail lines.

      • d.p. says

        And had the project been undertaken mostly atop the rail yards, or upon fairly acquired adjacent real estate, or with the slightest bit of deference for the intensively multi-use patch of urban fabric that already existed at the site, or with an ounce of respect for democracy and fundamental fairness, perhaps the project would have had a legitimate place in downtown Brooklyn.

        Instead, the developers orchestrated one of the truly jawdropping bait-and-switch schemes, eminent domain abuses, and thefts of taxpayer money in modern times.

        Although the developer, Forest City Ratner, already owned a large block of expandable generic-corporate retail to the north of the Atlantic Yards site (the Atlantic Center mall), it nevertheless set its sights on a large and functioning mixed residential-and-commercial block to the south of the site, on which he had the city gerrymander a “blight” designation in order to acquire the properties by forth for direct transfer to Ratner.

        The “blighted” areas included thriving businesses and historic mixed-income brownstones with tenants who had been there for decades, as well as recently-renovated 10-story buildings containing million-dollar condos. “Blight.”

        Ratner unveiled a glittering Frank Gehry master plan for a densely-packed high-rise development, in which nearly a dozen residential towers would be built in a way that minimized the incongruous bulbous-arena-megablock problem caused by most urban sports venues. Moreover, Ratner promised thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs as a product of this 24/7/365 development.

        But even with most politicians in its corner, a no-bid purchase contract for the transit-agency-owned site awarded, and millions in direct no-strings-attached subsidies from city taxpayers already promised, the glossy above-board PR was not enough. Ratner divided and conquered Brooklyn by astroturfing a “pro-jobs, pro-arena” group to which it funneled large sums of money illegally to overwhelm review hearings and undercut protests from the anti-eminent-domain-abuse group.

        Meanwhile, after the economic crash forced the sale of the controlling interest in the Nets and the arena itself to Russian zillionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the elevation of tiny-minority-owner Jay-Z to become the “public face” of the project was carefully calibrated to create the impression of a big-money project “staying local” when the accounting truth was anything but.

        Anyway, fast-forward to today. Ratner won (obviously), but the master site plan got scrapped, and nothing but an incongruous bulbous-arena-megablock has gotten built. The site will have little relationship to its mixed surroundings, and will be anything but a 24/7/365 asset to Brooklyn.

        An independent audit found that fewer than 50 construction jobs ever became available to the populations of Prospect Heights that were goaded into supporting the project.

        There will be no permanent full-time jobs.

        You can, and should, read the thousands of archived newspaper articles on this whole decade-long debacle.

        The documentary made about the fight is also worth every minute of your time. Here’s the trailer: http://battleforbrooklyn.com/trailer It’s advocacy filmmaking (duh), but the astroturfing and stomach-churning political shenanigans it uncovers are fully documented, as is the devolution from an arguably-urban (if “urban renewal”-tained) master plan to an anti-urban intrusion with zero economic benefit to anyone but the big-money players. Highly recommended.

      • d.p. says

      • Charles says

        Thanks for the information and perspective. I guess I’m old and cynical because this is what I see as the way things are. Lest we forget, this is exactly what was done on the Viaduct process and is being done for the Waterfront redevelopment, the Arena deal, the Spring District redevelopment etc. etc. What a powerful developer wants, they get. And whoa betide anyone or group that stand in their way. A “foolhardy” mayor thinks he can stop them? He’ll be met with a hurricane of agitprop that makes his head spin.

        The Supreme Court ruled (egregiously) that money is speech. The more money you have amassed, the more voice you get in how things go. Especially by paying people to extend your voice as you have suggested was done in this deal.

        This is the fundamental issue of our time. The corruption of our governmental and societal institutions by money. The Fourth Estate has been bought and paid for, it remains to be seen how the Fifth Estate (which I would posit includes the blogosphere) will fare under this onslaught. This is why we can’t have nice things. this is why our government doesn’t do for us what we want. This is why we can’t have nice shiny trains and BRT systems or to stop urban sprawl or arrest Global Climate Change.

      • d.p. says

        [ad hom]

        Prospect Heights / Fort Greene / Downtown Brooklyn = mixed-race, mixed-income, mixed-gentrification, mixed-use, pretty much mixed-everything

        Basketball arena = a bunch of rich white people buying very expensive tickets

        And you obviously didn’t look at the before/after photos. An actual urban area gives way to an isolated ball of crap that might as well be in New Jersey.

      • d.p. says

        Charles, I actually think there’s some room for optimism.

        After the Supreme Court issued its egregious 2005 Kelo v. City of New London, which permitted eminent domain for direct transfer to private hands without even the illusion of a “public use” facility (speciously claiming that any desire for economic growth constituted a public aim), dozens of states tightened their state laws to explicitly ban or raise scrutiny barriers for many forms of eminent domain.

        The Atlantic Yards deals had already be signed and sealed by the time that happened, but I suspect that a similar future land-grab would run afoul of the heightened public hostility to eminent domain excess that Kelo stoked.

        Meanwhile, the uselessness of sports facilities as economic engines — long understood by researchers — is finally (if slowly) sinking in to the public at large. Notice how the SoDo Arena proponents had to bend over backwards to try to claim the project involved no direct funding from taxpayers in order to win public approval.

        This was a lie, of course. Sunken bonding capacity and sacks of interest-free loaner cash (paid back out of fees and taxes that any other private entity would have to pay into the general fun) still amount to a direct taxpayer subsidy and a raw deal. But the days of no-strings-attached handouts are over, and even this smokescreen encountered a great deal of opposition.

        When SoDo-style proposals inevitably fail to attract a single net job or feed a single net dollar into the economy, eventually even the bullshit Chris Hansen just pulled will be out of the question. Atlantic Yards-level abuses will be beyond the pale.

      • Charles says

        @d.p., I sorta liked the idea someone had back when the Supreme Court ruling you referenced was made to use the eminent domain power as an illustration of its excess by condemning the property of a sitting Supreme Court Justice.

        New Hampshire Subsequent to this decision, there was widespread outrage across the country. California developer and libertarianLogan Darrow Clements scooped a similar proposal by New Hampshire libertarians to seize Justice Souter’s’blighted’ home in Weare, New Hampshire, via eminent domain in order to build a “Lost Liberty Hotel” which he said would feature a “Just Desserts Cafe”. Officials of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire (LPNH) and theCoalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers had been eyeing the Justice’s property to build a Constitution Park. A fewweeks later, LPNH Vice-Chair Mike Lorrey discovered that Justice Breyer owned an extensive vacation estate inPlainfield, NH, and announced on the New Hampshire Public Radio show The Exchange focusing on eminentdomain that LPNH would be pursuing their Constitution Park concept with Breyer’s property in mind. Lorrey and Clements both advocated an amendment to New Hampshire’s Constitution limiting eminent domain, which passed New Hampshire’s legislature on March 24, 2006. The text of the amendment is as follows: “No part of a person’sproperty shall be taken by eminent domain and transferred, directly or indirectly, to another person if the taking is forthe purpose of private development or other private use of the property.”[36] It passed by an overwhelming margin inthe 2006 general election.[37]

    • East Coast Cynic says

      Brooklyn son wanted to own a piece of an NBA team in the worst way. If it meant selling out the community, so be it. From his perspective as a uber-capitalist, that’s the way of the world.

      • d.p. says

        He is certainly proud of his Überkapitalist persona, and I basically think you’re correct.

        It’s just a shame in that I had finally come to appreciate him as a writer not long before he became the primary propagandist for Forest City Ratner. His trademark hindsight-monologue is amazingly cogent.

        I wonder if he’ll ever be able to ruminate on his unsavory role in this.

        (Fun fact: following Ratner’s sale of 80% of Nets ownership to the Russian zillionaire, Jay-Z’s ownership stake was reduced to 1/15 of 1%. He is listed second among team owners on Wikipedia. Everything about this is ridiculous: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/nyregion/with-the-nets-jay-z-rewrites-the-celebrity-investors-playbook.html?pagewanted=all

  7. Matthew Johnson says

    Today while waiting for the 150 I met a man from Mobile! We were discussing the Seahawks game, and then he mentioned how he was from Alabama and didn’t have a pro team before moving up here. I asked where and he said Mobile. I then asked him if he would believe me if I said I was Atmore (tiny little town just northeast of Mobile)! We ended up hugging it out right there at the bus stop. On the bus we had a great conversation about Mardi Gras (people up here don’t believe that Mardi Gras was actually started in Mobile [look it up; Bienville and D'Iberville founded Mobile, then Biloxi, and only 20 years later New Orleans]) and fish frys.

    Good times, good times…

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