NYT tells Gowanus residents to shut up and enjoy gentrification

NYT Real Estate cover October 5, 2014

Sunday’s Real Estate cover: a study in opposites.

Sunday’s second cover story in the Times Real Estate section, Gowanus Is Counting on a Cleanup, made me seethe. Not only had the writer cribbed all of the local interview subjects from my Metropolitan piece on the cleanup proper, but she also implies that residents should shove their complaints and enjoy everything luxury development has to offer their little community.

First, let’s touch on the title, which falls in the editor’s domain. The cleanup is going to happen, as anyone with even passing familiarity with the issue knows; the Environmental Protection Agency won’t take “no” for an answer, and wields significant powers under Superfund. (So far, the non-city “potentially responsible parties,” of which National Grid is the largest member, have been very cooperative, according to the EPA.)

What Gowanus – and by “Gowanus,” the writer means the developers looking to build humongous condos, not the people living there at present – is counting on is a rezoning to residential (or at least to mixed-use). Whether that will happen is up in the air, although community groups have been unhappy with Council Member Brad Lander’s approach.

Now, for my main journalistic beef. Let’s take a look at the piece’s final paragraph:

For some locals, the influx of shops (and shoppers) is a double-edged sword. “It’s wonderful to be able to walk down streets that you previously wouldn’t have,” said Aleksandra Scepanovic, the managing director of the Ideal Properties Group. “But there is also this fear: Oh no, what does that mean? Am I going to get priced out of my own neighborhood?”

Although this quote is incendiary – imagine it had been said about a black neighborhood – I don’t have a problem with its inclusion. What I do dislike is the attribution of this sentiment to locals. When a writer assigns a feeling to a particular group, you expect to see a quote from a member of that group backing it up; instead, we have someone from the opposing side sharing her view on the virtues of gentrification.

I emailed Linda Mariano, the co-founder of FROGG quoted in both my article and this one, to see what she thought about this comment. “Were there any streets you hadn’t walked down previously?” I asked her. “There are no streets I would not walk down,” she replied.

The juxtaposition with the realtor’s quote screams, “Hey, I couldn’t find any locals who agreed with this assertion, so I’m going to pull in a biased source to tell them why they should!” Here’s a parallel example:

For some climate-change activists, the drier weather is a double-edged sword. “It’s wonderful to be able to count on your baseball game not being rained out,” said Joe Schmo, vice president of Koch Industries. “But there is also this fear: Oh no, what does that mean? Is this going to ruin the planet?”

Keep in mind this is the same section that brought you not only the inane piece on the “longtime” Williamsburg residents (read: since 2007!) priced out of their adopted home, but – on the very same cover as this Gowanus piece – a rueful elegy to the dying hyper-luxury market that has fueled real-estate coverage for so long. Let the left hand know not what the right is doing, I suppose.

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4 Responses to NYT tells Gowanus residents to shut up and enjoy gentrification

  1. I rely on the New York Times for one thing and one thing only: when they report on a trend, the trend is over.

  2. michaelcairl says:

    The poor scribblers for the Real Estate section kowtowing to the mighty potentates among “developers.” The Times should be as embarrassed as I am outraged. When I read the quote from Ms. Scepanovic I couldn’t help thinking of how the groups promoting the Atlantic Yards development successfully tarred the immediate environs of the rail yards as “blighted” when nothing could have been further from the truth. Ms. Scepanovic didn’t use the word “blight” but it overhung her whole remark. And Gowanus is not a blighted area even if the waterway and its banks are a Superfund site. It is a vital community.
    In 2004 the Gowanus Community Stakeholder Group, which was trying to get the elevated Gowanus Expressway replaced by a tunnel, put out a report to the community at the time my friend Jo Anne Simon was stepping down as GCSG chair and I was taking over. Jo Anne wrote the following regarding transportation decisions but it pertains equally to redevelopment: “We … believed that transportation decisions should be:
     Respectful of the host communities
     Made after meaningful participation by the affected persons
     Based on sufficient, accurate and valid traffic and environmental data.”
    This was not a clarion call for NIMBYs but an insistence that such decisions not be made on a top-down basis. Another way to look at this is what would the host community get in return for the proposed project. It is not clear that Gowanus would get anything of value, and pricey apartments for high rollers, with a sop for “affordable” housing, don’t represent good value in and of themselves.
    So the Gowanus community shouldn’t just take what is in prospect. It’s time for something of value to be proposed in return, not housing for Williamsburg newbies who have been priced out, not event tickets (see the Atlantic Yards community benefits agreement). Schools, public open space that is in the community and at ground level, new sewers, flood mitigation – for starters.

  3. Lisanne says:

    I spoke to this reporter for over half an hour about the changes in the nabe, the environmental issues, being priced out (I am a renter of 20 years ) and I didn’t make the cut. Thanks for this great piece. I too thought it was bizarre that real estate agents were the go-to people about changes.

  4. Donna says:

    Ideal Properties Group’s first office was, and still is, in Gowanus. What gives? Why no love? They are the proverbial ‘locals.’

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