Poetic Justice in Brooklyn

It has been a familiar phenomenon that after a controversial redevelopment project is approved, what comes out of the municipal/redevelopment sausage machine is not necessarily what was promised to the public and the courts. We wrote about this a while back. See Gideon Kanner, We Don’t Have to Follow Any Stinkin’ Planning — Sorry About That, Justice Stevens, 39 Urban Lawyer 529 (Summer 2007). But it’s a case of poetic justice with a dollop of  schadenfreude when the screwees of such a shift in plans turn out to be former supporteres of the original redevelopment plan. And just that is apparently what is happening in Brooklyn.

One of the major points urged in favor of the controversial Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn was that its construction would create jobs. In fact, according to the New York Times, when the targeted  locals, protesting their coming displacement by eminent domain, appeared at community hearings, local union lads would drown them out with chants of  “Jobs, jobs, jobs!” But guess what?

It now turns out that Forest City Ratner, the Atlantic Yards redeveloper intends to use modular construction to put up some of the buildings now planned for that project. What that means is that much of the construction will be accomplished in factories whose employees get paid a lot less than on-site construction workers. The modules will be built in off-site factories and then transported to the construction site and bolted together into the planned structures. The technical catch is that modular construction is usually used for low-rise buildings, whereas now it has been proposed that it be used for a 34-story building — an unprecedented height that may require additional bracing likely to increase the cost.

Anyway, this development is infuriating the construction workers, the selfsame folks who were such supporters of the Atlantic Yards projects and who cheered on as the indigenous inhabitants of the project area were pushed aside to make room for Ratner’s construction plans. Says the Times: “it is the labor savings that are suddenly worrying some union officials, who were repeatedly asked by Forest City to mobilize their members for years of racuous community meetings.” Now, it appears that those union folks are facing a situation where the modular unit factory workers will be paid $35 per hour, as opposed to the $85 per hour paid to on-site construction workers.

Moral: when you demand that someone else’s rights be subordinated to what you claim to be  “the public good” that will put a buck or two into your own pocket, don’t be too surprised if in the event that “public good” bites you in the posterior as well.

For the Times story see Charles V. Bagli, Prefabricated Tower May Rise at Atlantic Yards, N.Y. Times, March 17, 2011, at p. A27. For the entire Times story go to http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/nyregion/17yards.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Atlantic%20Yards%20and%20modular&st=cse

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