Clear and Hold

Walker_35.4_moses Casey Walker reviews Roberta Brandes Gratz's The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, in the Boston Review:

For half a century, rich men have talked about building a stadium at the tangled intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn. Walter O’Malley hoped to construct a stadium for his Brooklyn Dodgers there, but Robert Moses—New York’s “master builder,” the bureaucrat through whom nearly all of the city’s major projects ran—refused to play nice. O’Malley took his ball and went home; the Dodgers decamped for Los Angeles in 1958.

But last March a new stadium project broke ground at Flatbush and Atlantic, where I live, and it promises to bring Brooklyn its first major sports franchise since the Dodgers’ departure—the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. In the 50 years since O’Malley’s stadium was thwarted, much has changed in the head-butting politics of American city building—and much has not.

Walk down Atlantic Avenue from Flatbush as I often do—carefully, because panel vans and car services menace pedestrians from all sides—and you will be in the footprint of the projected arena, the Barclays Center, anchor of the 22-acre Atlantic Yards project. Atlantic Yards is a familiar urban story: surrounding neighborhoods are braced for upheaval; architects have come and gone; redesigns have been announced, lambasted, tweaked, disowned; lawsuits multiply like kudzu; millions of dollars are all but blowing through the air; and the likely date of actual completion is anyone’s guess (Forest City Ratner, the developer, contends the Barclays Center will be finished by 2011, but the Web site does not give a timetable for the rest of the project).

Though I have closely followed the Atlantic Yards scuffle for years, I barely know what the project is anymore, what it will look like, or what it will contain. My guess is you would find city officials who are similarly unsure.