Titans of Click-Bait: The Park Slope Food Co-op Meets the “War on Cars”

co-op_meets_waroncars

In a rational world, the Park Slope Food Co-op opposing the conversion of an enormous garage into car-free mixed-use development would be as likely as Halliburton sponsoring every bike-share system in the country.

We don’t live in a rational world.

Everyone’s favorite symbol of eco-conscious Brooklyn (disclosure: my wife and I are card-carrying Co-op members — love the cheap organic produce!), has published what can only be described as a confused screed by local resident Jon Derow, arguing against turning a nearby 230-car garage into a car-free, residential-plus-retail development. The piece ran yesterday in the Co-op’s in-house newspaper, The Linewaiter’s Gazette.

foodcooptweet
The Food Co-op Twitter account posted this call to arms yesterday before deleting the tweet.

Now, the Co-op itself hasn’t taken an official position on the project, and it’s completely unremarkable for the Gazette to print a ludicrous opinion by one of the Co-op’s 16,000 members. But this particular publication decision is unusual because the piece comes with a preface from Co-op co-founder and General Manager Joe Holtz implicitly endorsing Derow’s perspective and urging members to attend an upcoming Community Board 6 meeting where the project will be discussed:

The International Principles of Cooperation call for cooperatives to have “Concern for Community” and for cooperatives to “work for the sustainable development of their communities.” In addition, our Mission Statement calls for us to be a responsible neighbor. In the coming weeks the General Coordinators will be discussing what our Coop’s response might be to the issue our neighbor Jon Derow has alerted us to. Please read Jon’s letter below, printed here with his permission, and please consider attending the Community Board 6 Land Use Committee meeting. —Joe Holtz, General Coordinator/General Manager

How might the transition from car storage to human housing affect the “sustainable development” of the Co-op’s community? Well, Derow predicts that turning the garage into 28 apartments and 7,000 square feet of retail will cause more drivers to circle for parking and lead to new headaches with double-parked delivery trucks. Because the garage houses 13 Zipcars, which have been shown to help curb car ownership, Derow says the conversion signals the impending arrival of “195 additional privately owned cars on our streets.”

To set the record straight: The garage itself generates car trips on Union Street. If anything, traffic on this block will decline without it. People inclined to pay for off-street parking have other options a short walk away, and people inclined to cruise for cheap curbside spaces aren’t going to park at an expensive garage in the first place. Cruising can be reduced by pricing meters so there are more open parking spaces, and truck deliveries can be handled with loading zones. There are Zipcars in several other nearby locations, so the neighborhood car-share fleet is going to be fine.

food-coop-garage
Without the garage, this huge curb cut across the Union Street sidewalk will no longer be necessary. Image: Google Street View

There are a lot of upsides to the project. Without cars coming and going over the gigantic curb cut that feeds this garage, walking to the Co-op will be a little safer and more pleasant, and biking up Union with a rear rack loaded with groceries will be a little less stressful. If the B71 bus ever comes back, there will be one less traffic magnet on Union Street adding to congestion and slowing down transit. And the new housing will do its small part to keep its affluent incoming residents from driving up rents in farther-out, more affordable sections of Brooklyn.

If the Gazette is going to give equal time to these viewpoints, it can’t really happen soon enough for the upcoming CB 6 meeting, which will start a few hours after the next issue of the Gazette is released on June 26. Meanwhile, the Co-op’s Twitter feed issued an uncharacteristic call to arms yesterday about the dreaded prospect of converting expensive car storage into expensive housing for people, before backtracking, claiming neutrality, and deleting the original tweet.

I called the Co-op to speak to Holtz about the decision to run this piece. He’s on jury duty today and wasn’t available. However, at the Co-op’s most recent General Meeting (which I attended for workslot credit — don’t ask!), Holtz said the garage may serve as a parking option of last resort for Co-op shoppers searching for a spot, and referred obliquely to the menacing new Gowanus Whole Foods and its acres of parking — presumably, that’s the competition.

I should mention that the garage conversion was relatively uncontroversial at a CB 6 committee hearing, where the main complaint was that the developer gave inadequate notice, according to a member of the public who attended. Also, this project only needs approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals, not the whole City Council. So there probably isn’t going to be a huge fight over this. Mainly, I think it’s a great story because we now see that even the International Principles of Cooperation can be co-opted to defend a private parking garage.

That, and I expect the pageviews will be spectacular.

  • According to the Coop, Derow is NOT a member. He lives a few doors down from the garage and appears to be upset at the potential of either construction at 808 Union, the loss of his parking space or both. I’m working on a rebuttal with a few other members. As a Coop member who also lives on the block of this garage, this whole thing angers me.

  • Coop Member

    If you think of parking garages as shelters for otherwise homeless cars, Derow’s position is right in line with the Coop’s values and mission statement. Who will think of these poor, voiceless automobiles? Shame on you, Streetsblog. Shame.

  • I probably would not have read this without the Godzilla vs. Mothra graphic. Well played. We should put Godzilla vs “somebody” at the top of at least one article per week.

  • Wilfried84

    NIMBY’s are never rational. Neighborhood “preservationists” in the West Village fought to preserve a minimally used parking lot at a church on its property, where they planned to build an apartment building, which would in turn fund other church related construction and activities. After much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth at public meetings, the Landmarks Commission disagreed, and the development will go forward. Opposition is not about preservation or environmentalism, but about real estate and knee jerk opposition to any new development.

  • And parking. It’s almost always about parking.

  • Greg Costikyan

    Weirdness…. As I recall, the Co-Op did a membership survey a few years back that showed that a huge proportion of members arrived on foot or by bike or subway, and only a handful drove. So parking really shouldn’t be much of an issue for Co-Op members. The Gazette is, of course, open to submissions by members — though I guess there won’t be another issue before the next board meeting. Still, you should write a rebuttal for them. (I’m technically a Co-Op member, but I put my membership on hiatus when I moved to San Francisco… hard to fulfill your work requirement from 2500 miles away.)

  • stairbob

    The co-op isn’t in any danger of running out of members — I believe there are currently limits on the rate of admission for new ones.

    If the lack of garage causes people who must drive to choose Whole Foods instead, then it’s a win for Union Street, IMO.

  • JamesR

    Wait, isn’t Streetsblog in favor of getting cars off of curbside parking? A garage facility (an existing facility, not a new one, which I could understand your opposition to) accomplishes this.

    Not only that. The fact that you’re apparently agnostic to the construction of more luxury condos in a city that is struggling with a ridiculous level of income inequality is troubling. There is a longstanding and unfortunate blind spot in the livable streets movement when it comes to issues of social equity. I support everything you guys do, but luxury condo developments do not need cheerleaders these days.

  • @FtGreeneCyclist

    Is “luxury housing” for *cars* preferable? Do *cars* need cheerleaders these days? Please help me understand how how favoring car parking and building *less* housing in NYC is going to help the acute housing shortage we’re all experiencing. “Luxury condos” is the term the non-member letter-writer used. What are the facts? It’s a mixed-use development. We all need to know more, especially before publishing regressive, car-centric op-eds like this one.

  • Geck

    “Luxury” is a marketing term for anything that is not low income housing as far as I can tell.

  • Cold Shoaler

    “Wait, isn’t Streetsblog in favor of getting cars off of curbside parking? A garage facility (an existing facility, not a new one, which I could understand your opposition to) accomplishes this.”

    After the city significantly reduces the inventory of on-street parking to improve pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist safety (e.g. pedestrianizing streets/plazas, daylighting intersections, adding bike lanes, creating loading zones to eliminate double parking/standing) AND charges something that resembles a market rate for the remaining inventory to dis-incentivize long term on-street car storage, then we can talk about how important it is to keep or add a particular garage. Making a garage available under the current street parking environment does not reduce the # of cars on the street, it adds to that number.

  • Eric McClure

    If this is all a ploy by the Food Coop to force the developer to include affordable units, then well played, Food Coop, well played.

  • Eric McClure

    When I was researching Union Street Garage usage by Coop members back in 2007 as fodder for fighting the 420 parking spaces that Whole Foods was proposing at the time (they cut the number by 36% in the final build), the peak utilization, based on the number of discounted parking vouchers issued by the Coop, was 405 members in a month. That works out to roughly one car per hour of Coop operation. And that peak was double the lowest months.

    Housing, luxury or otherwise, is a much better use for that building.

  • jooltman

    I recently saw one of those Eco-minded Zip Car drivers barrel across the sidewalk to enter the garage, scattering children, moms with strollers, and numerous Co-op shoppers. It was terrifying. Good riddance, garage.

  • The cost of a monthly spot in this garage is around $317. A spot across the street sold for $80,000 last year.

    http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130722/park-slope/park-slope-parking-spot-sells-for-80k

    That garage, in fact, is marketed as a “condominium for cars,” a term which should incense anyone concerned with the housing shortage for people in NYC.

    http://www.bermanrealty.com/parking.htm

    Just a little context for anyone who raises the spectre of inequality and the rising cost of city living.

  • J

    I’d be very careful about pairing zip car drivers with a broad stroke. There are some trips that cars can meet that other modes of transportation simply cannot. Zipcar allows people to live car free and still make ocaissional necessary car trips. Most studies show that each car share vehicle results in around 10 fewer vehicles being owned, either through vehicles sold or vehicle purchases being postponed, resulting in a lot less space being taken up by car storage. By including the entire cost of each car trip, car share discourages unnecessary car use, whereas when you own a car, much of the cost is already paid (sunk cost), and the incentive is to drive as much as possible. Thus, since car share reduces the number of cars stored and reduces car use per person, it is a good thing and something we should support. I’m sure the car share vehicles from this garage can find homes in other nearby garages or in on street spaces, as is done in many other cities (DC, Philadelphia, SF, etc).

  • J

    Opposing this conversion would most likely result in 1) no new affordable housing, 2) no new luxury housing, 3) keeping the same number of parking spaces. As the article mentions, without new luxury housing, the luxury tenants will simply seek housing father out, further reducing affordability in more parts of the city. It’s simple supply and demand, but many housing advocates actively ignore basic economics and are thus complicit in the continued rise in housing prices and the displacement of residents. Building subsidized hosting is great but insanely expensive, since demand far outstrips supply. If we force all new hosting to be affordable, we’ll spend a massive sum of money, but we won’t even make a dent on demand to live cheaply in highly desirable areas. In addition, the demand for more expensive housing will continue unabated, driving up rents in more and more neighborhoods, displacing more and more people. Better to let market forces allow supply to meet demand in highly desirable areas, reducing outward pressure on rents for a far greater segment of the population than could ever be helped by building new affordable housing.

  • Kevin Love

    “There are some trips that cars can meet that other modes of transportation simply cannot.”

    Which is why there do not exist any urban car-free zones anywhere in the world. Rumours of entire car-free cities, like Venice, are complete lies.

    All those Dutch and Japanese people talking about their car-free city centers are a bunch of liars. The plan to make the German city of Hamburg car-free is a hoax. And all those Canadians are liars who say that they live in North America’s largest urban car-free zone in Toronto.

  • Kevin Love

    This plan, to make the central 40% of Hamburg car-free, must be a complete lie.

    http://editorial.autos.msn.com/blogs/post–hamburg-to-ban-cars-downtown-by-2034

  • hellskitchencyclist

    There are also car-free city centers throughout France–because the tiny medieval “old cities” at the core of many old french cities are simply impassable by cars. The french also generally have cars, when they do at all, that make American subcompacts look gigantic.

  • bondstreet

    I looked up car usage rates for the four census tracts near the co-op. According to the 2012 ACS, between 90 and 95% of people who live near there don’t regularly drive.

    Preserving the supply of parking at the expense of housing would only help a very small fraction of Park Slope residents, and would be to the detriment of everyone affected by the city-wide housing shortage.

  • J

    I’m not saying car free cities or areas are bad. I happen to think they can be great, especially in smaller cities, but they do entail some trade offs, and are hard to establish. They require significant infrastructure and services to allow trips that are conveniently made by automobiles (say, furniture delivery and freight movement) to be done in another equally convenient fashion. I also think that fewer cars on the street is good, and that car sharing is a proven way to achieve that goal.

  • andrelot

    Is this another issue where preservation of a parking facility is used as a proxy for anti-development feelings? That is a far common occurrence in California.

  • Miles Bader

    I’m not aware of any truly car-free city centers in Japan. Obviously there are some pedestrian-only areas, and a lot more places where driving is very annoying (drive at 2mph sharing the road with crowds of pedestrians) to the point where only idiots do it.

    Unfortunately the biggest fans of driving in Japan tend to be old, well-off douchebags that see a black Mercedes as proof of their status. These same people tend to be politically influential as well, with the result that urban Japan, despite the dropping popularity of cars amongst the young, is slowly becoming more car-friendly. For instance, significant new construction often replaces small single-lane roads with much wider two-lane roads, even if there’s very little car-traffic.

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