Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Friday, January 25, 2019

It’s What The Brooklyn Heights Association Wanted And Fought For: As Library-Replacing Lux Tower Gets Ready To Sprint Toward Full Height With Its Last Stack of Floors It Begins To Dominate Heights Skies

View of library-replacing luxury tower from Montague Street (crane working to add the last stack of thus boosted floors to achieve its final ultimate height)
The luxury condo tower, which in a shrink-and-sink deal is replacing the Business, Career and Education Federal Depository Library in Downtown Brooklyn, has another stack of floors to be constructed before it reaches full “stature,” if that’s the word for it.

The advertised condominium apartment views now available on the developer’s website show those views looking down on the federal courthouse across the way (once opposed by neighbors as being too tall) and looking over the top of the adjacent One Pierrepont Plaza Ratner 1988 skyscraper.  Those views are from only the height of the building’s twenty-sixth floor, round about the height the building is reaching now.  When the 400+ foot tall building is complete it will be 36 stories tall, an additional ten stories over that 26.
Looking down on the federal courthouse, a building one opposed as too big

The slightly higher than mid-level 26th Floor view gets you to the top of the Ratner skyscraper that vexed the Brooklyn Heights Association because of its size
But even at the threshold height it has now reached where it is, finally starting to leave the Ratner skyscraper below, it is now becoming clear how the building will dominate the skies of Brooklyn Heights.  We offer pictures here so you can imagine it even taller still.

It is interesting to think that this is what the Brooklyn Heights Association wanted for Brooklyn Heights, that it is what the association fought hard to bring into existence against the overwhelming consensus of neighbors who did not want to give up the second biggest library in Brooklyn, a central destination downtown library that conveniently served all Brooklynites and many other New Yorkers coming from all around the city.

It must be recognized that hugely tall buildings that leave their neighbors in the dust, at certain times, have, for many of us, a certain commanding beauty.  Sometimes you just have to begrudgingly admit that, even if and when they might make you feel small and insignificant or cast shadows onto your parks, they have an arresting way of whispering (or shouting) progress, achievement and newness while advertising human technological proficiency.  Maybe some who settled or who have dwelled enviously in Brooklyn Heights with a Manhattan-wannabe complex will feel that this building announces that Brooklyn Heights has arrived. 

Is this why the Brooklyn Heights Association fought so hard, often secretively and behind-the-scenes, to have this shiny new tower provide contrast for New York’s oldest historic district and  neighborhood by poking up into its skies where it will be seen from repeated vantages as the casual stroller meanders through local townhouse streets? . . .

. . .  Or was it that the Brooklyn Heights Association was just eager to see an important library squashed out of existence in a shrink-and-sink deal that would push the much diminished library space underground, while eliminating books and librarians, disappearing the Business Library, the Career Library, the Education library and the federal depository library resources?  Of course this means that the Brooklyn Heights Association was reversing itself from the time when it was opposing the height of the adjacent Ratner skyscraper and (in connection therewith) was negotiating for a bigger, better library.  And that bigger, better library the BHA said it wanted then is something the neighborhood finally got fairly recently, but now it's been been torn down for the luxury tower even though it was expanded and fully upgraded to be one of the best and most modern in the Brooklyn Public Library system.

. . . Of course shrinking the library and getting rid of the Business, Career and Education Federal depository resources does have the effect of evicting those who were coming from elsewhere, such as the nearby projects, to use the libraries.

. . .  Or did the Brooklyn Heights Association want to see the luxury tower replace the library because the Saint Ann’s private school was going to get a private windfall from the sale of real estate development rights it possessed provided that the city proceeded with eliminating the library?  Did it want that because the Saint Ann’s school contingent was better than well represented in the Brooklyn Heights Association’s decision making about what to do about the sale of the city land and public asset to create the luxury tower?  Moreover, the entangled Brooklyn Heights Association sidelined itself and eschewed speaking out in the name of good government, remaining steadfastly indifferent to the pay-to-play investigation scandals that emerged concerning the sale of the city owned library sale to a connected developer the de Blasio administration favored in the hand-off of the property for so much less than it was worth.  Once compromised in this regard it is more difficult to speak out in the future.

Of course all of this raises questions about what the BHA can be expected to do in the future and how reliable the BHA is, and for what (ditto an elected official like Councilman Steve Levin).  What will the BHA decide to oppose and what will it decide to promote?  There was, not long ago, a proposal to build another similar luxury tower just doors down from the library-replacing lux tower, the Pineapple Walk building.  The Heights Association, inconsistently we would say, opposed it.  That was then.  Real estate development is a long game.  No doubt that proposal will be back and when the library-replacing lux tower is fully present and accounted for it will seem even harder, seemingly sillier to oppose it. Maybe some of the new residents in the library-replacing tower will by then even be members of the BHA and arguing that it would be great to have a sister luxury Cadman Tower West building.

Then, aside from the question of what the BHA `opposes,' there is the question of what the BHA will be timely and effective at opposing.  We can note that the sale of Long Island College Hospital, The view-destroying over-construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier One Pierrehouse buildings, the building at Pier Six in Brooklyn Bridge Park of more buildings than the agreed upon formula dictated, a lot of construction period as local public schools get more crowded were all things the BHA opposed, but its opposition was ineffective.
From Henry Street seen rising behind the Supreme Court Appellate Division Building
As seen from 101 Clark Street where many meetings were held to try to stop sale of the library
As seen currently (floors to go) from Monroe Place from where impetus and support for the building came.
Go all the way to to the end of this newly landscaped Brooklyn Bridge Park pier and you will find the tower following you like the moon follows you on along a road on a moonlight night
Behind the Unitarian Universalist church on Pierrepont Street
How Brooklyn Heights looks from the 26th floor of the luxury tower

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