My friend Candace Carponter, who is Legal Director for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), came over tonight to help me plan a media training, and offered to spring for Chinese food. So I called Szechuan Delight, and asked the woman who answered the phone for some shrimp and scallops with vegetables in garlic sauce.
Here’s the dialogue that followed:
SD: I’m sorry, we don’t have that dish.
Jezra: OK, do you have anything like it?
SD: I don’t know. Let me look at the menu. (pause) We have something called Triple Delight. It has shrimp, scallops and chicken with vegetables. Would you like us to make it for you without the chicken?
Jezra: That would be great. What kind of sauce does it come with?
SD: Brown sauce.
Jezra: Could I get it with garlic sauce instead?
SD: Yes. One Triple Delight with no chicken and garlic sauce instead of brown.
Now, you might think this was an adversarial exchange (and it would quickly have become one if I’d said what I first thought, which was, “Why can’t you just give me what I want?”). But from the moment she offered to hold the chicken, I knew that she and I were acting with a common purpose (satisfy the customer), even if we were operating in different conceptual frameworks.
And I verified that by asking the right question.
Atlantic Yards: It Depends on What You Ask
When I was working against the boondoggle Atlantic Yards project, City Councilperson Letitia James (who, along with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, was our guiding political light), noted that the question you ask predicts the answer you’ll get.
And yes, the positions in this 7-year fight were summed up by these questions:
- Bruce Ratner (billionaire developer from Cleveland): Do you think Brooklyn should get 10,000 jobs, thousands of units of low income housing, and a shiny new sports arena?
- Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (plucky bunch of underfunded community activists): Do you think 800 people and businesses should be removed from their homes by the state so that their land can be given to a billionaire developer from Cleveland, at a cost to New York taxpayers of $1.6 billion dollars?
Time will show which of these questions was more germane. (Hint: 150 jobs. No low-income housing. Profits will flow to the mega-billionaire from Russian who bailed out our Cleveland guy.) But history has already shown that the question is father (or mother) to the answer.
And BTW, if you want to know more about that history, the entire, seven-year fight is exhaustively archived at Atlantic Yards Report; reported with snarky wit on No Land Grab; and the subject of a wonderful forthcoming documentary, The Battle of Brooklyn.
Or you could just go the official AY website for a good laugh.