The progressive intent of (some) urban redevelopment schemes

At a birthday party a few weeks ago, after the latest incarnation of the new Atlantic Yards stadium design was discussed with no uncertain degree of derision, conversation shifted to the history of other large scale developments in the city.
Walking through the Lower East Side, my Jacobian sensibilities had always been appalled by the scale of the Coop Village, but when I shared this opinion, an acquaintance at the party challenged this opinion. It turned out that my friend currently resides in one of the Hillman Houses and likes it because his apartment is relatively spacious, well designed and pleasantly quiet because the building is set back from the street. Photo, Coop Village, courtesy of the Coop Village website.

After growing up in the pre-bistrofied East Village, this friend was less inclined than I have been to glorify New York's prewar building stock, and recommended I watch Naked City (1948) to see what the LES looked like in the era shortly before its massive redevelopment. (He also recommended the low-budget film Mixed Blood, which filmed in Alphabet City in 1985 for an reality check about what all those adorable walk-ups looked like 20 years ag0.) Photo, movie poster for Naked City (1948).
While I'd known that Coop Village provided affordable housing to many low and middle-income New Yorkers, many of whom were at one time union members, I also hadn't realized that this housing project were organized by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (both grandparents to the labor union that my partner works for today, UNITE-HERE) as a way to provide affordable and decent housing for their members.
Which got my started thinking about the progressive intentions behind many urban redevelopment schemes. While trolling around the internet the other day, I came across an audio recording of Richard Lee, who served as New Haven's mayor from 1954-1970 and oversaw the city's large scale attempts at urban redevelopment. I highly recommend listening to the clip, in which Lee describes with great optimism his vision for a "slumless city." The fact that even with the best intentions for public welfare, New Haven's urban redevelopment projects were a massive failure should provide a healthy dose of reality to anyone who attempts large-scale reengineering of the urban fabric. Photo, Mayor Lee with his model for New Haven, courtesy of New Haven Oral History Project.
The rhetoric about the public good of Atlantic Yards seems to have become more muted in recent months. In his original plans for Atlantic Yards, Ratner said that 30 percent of the 6,000+ apartments would be priced for low and middle-income households. While this, and the promise of construction jobs, seems have bought the support of ACORN and some local politicians, as plans for most of apartment towers are axed, it has become a greater stretch to describe the project as a benefit to the public.
And aside from the project's escalating cost to taxpayers, there's also concerns about a project of such scale will affect the livability of the existing neighborhood. When I first moved to New York in 2005, I lived off of Flatbush Avenue, a few blocks from the apartments designated for demolition. Crossing Flatbush or Pacific to access the subway at the Atlantic Terminal was always a pedestrian nightmare, and I'm certain that building additional high density housing and the sports arena will only worsen the traffic as well as the risk to non-motorists at that intersection.
That being said, I'm not unilaterally opposed to development, even large-scale development that changes the character of neighborhoods. But it seems that project of this scale that requires this much taxpayer subsidization should provide more public benefit than two-thousand market-rate luxury condos.

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