Living

Goodbye Red Hook, Hello Battery Park City Brooklyn

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A massive real estate development firm is hoping to transform Red Hook from a sleepy industrial village into a monstrous condo empire akin to Battery Park City, complete with more than a dozen soaring residential towers and three new subway stops.

Red Hook, as it stands, is known to its weekend visitors as a charming waterside hamlet largely cut off from the rest of the city. Its relative seclusion makes it a peaceful place to live; it also grinds the gears of developers thirsting to raze the “underutilized” waterfront and turn it into the glass-walled broscape of their dreams.

It’s only a matter of time before the developers get what they want, wielding as they do more power than any other entity in the city. The latest proposal does not even play at a measured approach: The firm AECOM envisions as many as 45,000 units of housing piled into more than a dozen towers, to be largely built on property currently owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as well as space at NYCHA’s Red Hook Houses. The plan also calls for extending the 1 train from lower Manhattan via underwater tunnel, with stops at the Atlantic Basin, Red Hook Houses, and a connection with the 4th Avenue F/G.

Like so many developers planning outsize projects before them, the folks at AECOM insist that the development will help the neighborhood, rather than summarily destroying it. “We have to recognize that growth is necessary to create a waterfront that people can use, affordable housing, and a mass-transit connection to a neighborhood where one doesn’t exist,” Chris Ward, a senior vice president at AECOM, told Crain’s.

Do “we”? Ward does not specify who, precisely, the redevelopment plan is intended to benefit. Certainly not Red Hook’s current residents, since the din of construction alone would render the neighborhood utterly uninhabitable for next decade. When the grind of jackhammers does finally cease, the resulting real estate will be accessible only to the Wall Streeters streaming in through the newly extended 1 train. AECOM insists that a quarter of its units will be “affordable,” a term only tenuously defined and, moreover, frequently not “affordable” at all.

Reached by the Voice, Ward clarified that the plans are only in the “framework” stage, and that the suggestions proffered were developed entirely by AECOM without any community involvement. The eighty-acre Container Terminal and adjoining Cruise Terminal will be sold off by Port Authority in due time, he said, and the question for Red Hook residents is how they’d like to see that space used. “By doing nothing, you’re still going to have outcomes, and those outcomes are going to be negative,” he said.

Almost all of Red Hook sits in the floodplain, so AECOM has proposed financing some measure of waterfront protection. Options tentatively include 25 million square feet of development with 2.5 miles of waterfront protection, or 35 million square feet with an entirely protected waterfront. As the Voice noted, protecting Red Hook from the imminent pummeling caused by rising sea levels is predicted to cost at least $200 million, but the state and the city have only allocated $100 million. Ward points out that such protections will require some level of wealth generation, and “the feds are not coming into New York to pay for resiliency.”

AECOM’s most appetizing carrot is probably the inclusion of the three new subway stops, though again, it’s unclear whether that proposal is actually aimed at its current inhabitants, who have managed to survive this long with buses and moxie alone. Red Hook’s reputation as a transit desert is more illusory than fact-based. Much of the area is within a fifteen- or twenty-minute walk to either the Smith–9th Street F/G or the Carroll Street F/G, and the B61 bus runs throughout. Some degree of schlepping is required of all New York City residents who want to get around — Red Hook just requires slightly more, an inconvenience that many of its residents deem worthwhile in order to enjoy the neighborhood’s many other perks, like the merciful absence of a glass-walled Tilted Kilt (see: Jersey City).

Red Hook Initiative Executive Director Jill Eisenhard told the Voice that her main message to AECOM is that any plan that seeks to restructure Red Hook will have to involve the community from the ground floor. “They kept saying, ‘we want to start a conversation,’ ” she said. “Well, you succeeded.” 

Ward, a former Port Authority executive, said the ball is now in Red Hook’s court, reiterating that climate change will not stand politely by during a prolonged period of hand-wringing over the neighborhood’s sanctity. “It’s a matter of engagement,” he said, adding that negotiating specifics will likely take between three and five years.

“Having said that, the future of Brooklyn has already started,” he said, “If we don’t address sea level rise, we won’t be New York in the next fifty years.”

View the full presentation here.