Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ward Bakery Protests Continue

From the Downtown Brookyln Star

Dateline : Thursday, March 29, 2007
Ward of the State (Development Corporation)
By Nik Kovac and Norman Oder

The first Monday morning of spring provided yet another opportunity for Brooklynites to publicly clash over the proposed Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights. It started at sunrise, before most commuters had even begun breakfast, in tune with the schedule both of construction workers and protesters.
The occasion was the continued pre-demolition work inside the Ward Bakery Building on Pacific Street, directly across the eastern edge of the railyards between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. That interconnected set of brick buildings with white terracotta glazing has stood since 1911, but is now owned by Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), and sits inside the 22-acre footprint slated by that developer for the construction of 16 skyscrapers, mostly housing and including an NBA arena.
The presence of several sign-wielding protesters organized by the Prospect Heights Action Coalition (PHAC) seemed to cause a show of discretion from the contractors charged with removing the asbestos and other hazardous materials from the 96-year-old bakery turned warehouse before it is taken down piece-by-piece.

The developer himself, FCRC CEO Bruce Ranter (cousin of Chuck), argues that the destruction of the Ward Bakery is a good thing by itself. That's because 75 percent of the old building's materials will be recycled and the new skyscrapers will be energy efficient enough to obtain recognition from the nationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
"Obtaining LEED certification for Atlantic Yards is one of the highest 'green' standards we can achieve," said Bruce Ratner in a press release on the eve of pre-demo work for the Ward Bakery. "Whether it is recycling building materials, using low emission vehicles or reducing storm water overflows into the Gowanus Canal by more than 2 million gallons per year, we are seeking out every possible way to make Atlantic Yards as eco-friendly and environmentally responsible as possible."
Earlier that month, however, a national expert on the economics and the environmental impact of urban development was disputing the panacea of new "green" buildings at the expense of renovating the old ones. "So much of the 'green building' movement focuses on the annual energy use of a building," explained Donovan Rypkema during his keynote address to the annual meeting of the Historic Districts Council (HDC), which advocates for preservation issues in New York City.
"But the energy embodied in the construction of a building is 15 to 30 times the annual energy use," continued Rypkema. "Razing historic buildings results in a triple hit on scarce resources. First, we are throwing away thousands of dollars of embodied energy. Second, we are replacing it with materials vastly more consumptive of energy. What are most historic houses built from? Brick, plaster, concrete, and timber. What are among the least energy consumptive of materials? Brick, plaster, concrete, and timber. What are major components of new buildings? Plastic, steel, vinyl, and aluminum. What are among the most energy consumptive of materials? Plastic, steel, vinyl, and aluminum. Third, recurring embodied energy savings increase dramatically as a building life stretches over fifty years. You're a fool or a fraud if you say you are an environmentally conscious builder and yet are throwing away historic buildings, and their components."

Economic vs. Environmental Sustainability
Such arguments over the long-term health of the city and planet were academic to another group of demonstrators on the Pacific Street sidewalks this Monday morning. Twice in number to the protesters, but later to arrive, was a group of about a dozen members from People for Political and Economic Empowerment (PPEE), an outgrowth of the ReBUILD movement, founded in the Fort Greene projects by frequent Ratner critic Darnell Canada.
"We're here," explained PPEE Assistant Director Caprice Watson, "to let them know that we want jobs. We just had a guy today go through the apprenticeship program, but nobody's been hired yet on this [pre-demo] job."
In other words, PPEE was not exactly protesting or counter-protesting: more like offering conditional support. They are for the project if they get hired to help build it. Rypkema, meanwhile, pointed out during his keynote address, that renovation projects are actually more labor-intensive than new construction, and thus create more jobs per dollar spent.

Timing Again
Daniel Goldstein, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit contesting Atlantic Yards, lives two long blocks down Pacific Street from the Ward Bakery. He is particularly concerned, like the Hagans, that this demolition is occurring before the overall project's future is certain.
"The state should not allow demolition to go forward," he told the Star by phone, "until this project is feasible, and it's not until these lawsuits are settled."
In fact, a second round of oral arguments about the case will be heard this Friday morning at federal court in Downtown Brooklyn. At issue so far is merely the venue - federal vs. state court - and the merits of the case have not yet been formally argued by either side.