Friday, September 2, 2016

UPDATED Part #1: REBNY: The Thing That Ate NYC

UPDATE #3: How on earth did i neglect to include former DCP chairs Joe Rose and Amanda Burden, along with many DCP commissioners to my Dishonorable Hall of Shame List?

I also omitted NYU, Cooper Union, Columbia University and Pratt for their voracious and insatiable appetites to be landowners, no matter the cost--usually to contiguous neighborhoods, but also to the actual students who are extorted for an education when education is no longer the priority for these institutions?

Finally, there's a long list and history of community board members across the city who have done the bidding for developers, real estate organizations, electeds etc....often while giving political cover to representatives working against their constituents own interests. Furthermore, many have conflicts of interest which at the very least should force them to be recused from crucial land use decisions. Personally, I think they should be permanently prohibited from serving.

WBAI Morning Show interview with GVSHP's executive director about both the city's redevelopment project at St. John's Terminal and the situation with the endangered tenements.

There is recent news the city and Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) ignored community and preservationist pleas to save five beaux arts EV tenement buildings eligible for landmarking, to allow a 'hipster' hotel to be constructed in their place.

According to the GVSHP, LPC not only failed to act; they never even responded to the request! Wow--deja vu to the days of Rudy Giuliani, when this kind of (in)action was the rule, not the exception...and the city lost some real treasures, like the Cottage apartments on the Upper East Side, or the Palladium nightclub (originally the Academy of Music). To add insult to injury, after NYU demolished that storied music venue for a dorm, they had the poor taste to name it 'The Palladium dorm.

I guess the whole BDB-preserving-existing-affordable-housing is unfortunately exactly what we expected: a sham. People were living in these buildings until very recently.

But it's not enough to lose quality affordable housing, is it? We are also losing interesting specimens from eras when architects took pride in their work, deciding to create buildings with aesthetic appeal and detail, NOT more glass shoe boxes designed for suburbanites and yuppies who think perfectly straight floors and shiny new appliances is really living. No unique character for these philistines.......Plus, it's yet another nail in the coffin separating the city's rich history from this generic entity with its disappearing soul.

And, we still mourn a particularly beautiful building once standing on the corner of 7th Street and 2nd Avenue, which was destroyed last year in that gas explosion--just a few blocks from the tenements.

I've said it before, the Las Vegas NY-NY casino is more authentic than is this facsimile to which we now refer as NYC.

So, I've decided to create the 'Dishonorable Hall of Shame,' an ever-growing list of people who have been active or complicit in the destruction of our beloved home: 

Governors Pataki, Andrew Cuomo; 
Mayors Giuliani, Bloomberg, de Blasio; 
Council Speakers Peter Vallone, Gifford Miller, Christine Quinn, Melissa Mark Viverito; 
State Senate Republicans; 
State Senate Democrats because when they finally won a majority, they made Pedro Espada chair of the housing committee; 
Deputy Mayors Dan Doctoroff, Alicia Glen; 
Borough Presidents C. Virginia Fields, Scott Stringer, Marty Markowitz, Eric Adams, Ruben Diaz Jr.;
Too many City Council Members to list;
The NYS Economic Development Council, NYC Economic Development Corporation (and their various offshoots;)
The Rent Stabilization Association; 
Business Improvement Districts;
The Downtown Alliance;
The Association for a Better NY;

There is no point in adding individual developers because, like dogs eating their own feces, its in their genetic makeup: they are going to do what they've been doing so long as the city and state keep enabling them. (Apologies to dogs...)

Furthermore, there are some who are straddling the fence like Gale Brewer--whom I have know for two decades and greatly respect--but who was the only sitting Borough President to support Mayor de Blasio's MIZ plan. It has also been pointed out to me Brewer has resuscitated a small business "savior" plan dating back to the Koch era, where it was summarily discredited, while also discrediting the 'Small Business Jobs Survival Act'--about which I have written extensively on Ethics Ain't Pretty as well as in my capacity as a journalist. 

Have additions? Tweet them to @ethicsaintpretty.


The Real Estate Board of New York's (REBNY) power in the city and state have effectively transformed both over the last 20+ years--and i think many would agree, not for the better. As a true Manhattan native, I can't begin to describe how sick I feel every time I don't recognize my city anymore. When I see certain skyline views now, I wonder is that NYC or is it Baltimore or Philadelphia or Toronto or Vancouver or even Hong Kong? 

One very real way this has manifested has been how quickly, almost pathologically, we as a city--lead by our municipal government--have allowed our history to be sacrificed to the wrecking ball so a developer can erect yet another out-of-scale shoebox to compensate for any personal shortcomings. 

Build as high as you can, shut out all light and air, tax an already overburdened infrastructure, compromise the very neighborhoods you are trying to exploit so the things making these areas so appealing can no longer exist. Maybe throw in a pittance of 'affordable' units (off-site if you're really lucky) and even better, get a tax bonus. Wow, getting subsidized to make money!

I was watching the classic film, An American In Paris, the other day which opens with wide shots of different monuments, including the Place de la Concorde. I haven't been to Paris in a while, but I think it's pretty safe to guess it still looks the same as it did when I was last there, and as it did in that 1951 movie. Incredibly, there are actually height limits in that city; the Eiffel Tower remains the tallest building within Paris proper.

This got me to thinking about when I lived in London in the 1980s, working on an internship in the House of Commons. Despite the massive gentrification and their own desperate need for affordable housing, many of London's historic sights remain relatively unscathed, places like Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. 

According to the National Capital Planning Commission's Height Master Plan: London’s height regulation approach is primarily comprised of protected view corridors between specific vantage points and priority landmarks.

The website for the Mayor of London's office devotes an entire page to 'Heritage Assets and Archeology," disclosing how policy and planning decisions are made and why regarding its 'landscape heritage:' 
Spatial distribution of designated heritage assets
Crucial to the preservation of this character is the careful protection and adaptive re-use of heritage buildings and their settings... make a significant contribution to local character and should be protected from inappropriate development that is not sympathetic in terms of scale, materials, details and form. Development that affects the setting of heritage assets should be of the highest quality of architecture and design...

In fact, many prominent cities across the globe have some form of regulation protecting their history, including landmarks and even views. 

And, then there's New York. 

Can you imagine what NYC would be like had the preservation of OUR past been a significant priority? Can you imagine REBNY ever permitting this?

The news that Extel plans to demolish 10 buildings in the diamond district is just
 the latest in a long line of blows.

Industries and other distinct areas are disappearing; there is little of the garment and flower districts, for example. No more meat packing, no more printing... We're losing--or have already lost--everything about NYC that has ever given it character, including some of the less formal 'landmarks' like Indian Row on East 6th Street.

There are longstanding criticisms of city government--especially against the Department of City Planning (DCP)--accusing both of not actually PLANNING on a broad scale. Moreover, DCP is now perceived as an instrument facilitating developers, often at the expense of local neighborhoods. 

Tom Agnotti, Urban Affairs and Planning professor at Hunter College (full disclosure: my alma mater) wrote this in 2010New York City does little real planning... [DCP] the agency entrusted with planning in the charter, is fixated on ad hoc localized zoning instead of planning. Zoning regulates the built environment but doesn’t deal with most of the complex issues that New Yorkers care about. It regulates new development but does little to address most quality-of-life issues or solve serious problems in our neighborhoods. 

Mind you, he wrote this well before before Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing and rezoning plans were introduced. 

And there is an inherent conflict of interest with the city planning department charged with both pushing for zoning changes and with providing information and support to communities that might want to question those changes...While citywide planning occurs in New York, it is piecemeal and not connected to community-based planning.  (Author's emphasis.)

Understanding what Agnotti wrote is critical because it similarly explains NYC's approach to preservation; in fact, there is little official guidance about the importance of integrating NYs legacy, as a general rule. There is virtually no relevant information on the DCP website or on the Mayor's home page. 

“The purpose of safeguarding the buildings, and places that represent NYC's cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history,” according to the website for the agency tasked with saving city history, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the VERY FIRST reason is to, “stabilize and improve property values.”

I did see, however, these gems on DCP's site:

*Promote neighborhood economic development;
By creating conditions which benefit chain stores while pushing out mom and pop small businesses?

*Work with neighborhoods and government agencies to develop sound ground-up frameworks for growth that align strategic planning priorities with individual community needs.
Let's ask the residents of neighborhoods like East Harlem, Chinatown or the Bronx's Jerome Avenue Corridor to ask how serious DCP has been about that second point.

The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission is notoriously overburdened and underfunded, and frankly, hasn't done its job properly for two decades. Don't forget, the current LPC chair has no preservation experience. Even worse, she headed the city's Board of Standards and Appeal (BSA), that mayoral-controlled nebulous entity responsible for some of the more glaring travesties because it grants waivers to developers to circumvent existing rules.

Yes, we have landmarked buildings and some historic districts. But the process is rife with politics, reactive instead of proactive, and piecemeal in scale, similar to what Agnotti wrote when describing DCP. Just look at the number of historically or architecturally significant buildings--particularly those located near such districts--LPC refuses to landmark, or that have already been destroyed. 

New Yorkers for a Human Scale city included this summation in Round-Up #17 by architect and urbanist John Massengale to explain how things work (or don't): The New York City Planning Commission... process is reactive and personal, dependent upon who is serving as Commissioner and what influences have been brought to bear on the Commissioner’s boss, the Mayor...
 [LPC] has input on work in historic districts and on designated landmarks, but that is again done through negotiation and according to the personal preferences of the 11 Commissioners, who are appointed by the Mayor. 

The history of mayoral interference, particularly on behalf of developers, is well-known. Now, pro-development City Council Members--one of whom chairs the Land Use committee in a fox-protecting-the-hen-house kind of situation-- have been trying to chip away at the little baseline protections we have. They got their way. Despite heavy opposition from community and preservation groups, Mayor de Blasio signed the bill on June 30th, 2016. 

And don't get me started on the whole state vs city landmarking status, that has permitted developers to build within the city as they like in areas like the Lower East Side because state protections are less stringent than the city's--and offer less protection to its historic districts.

The following WBAI segment is a discussion with the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy about a recent report they commissioned debunking many of the lies and myths REBNY has propagated so successfully about landmarking. Because of this success, REBNY--with a lot of help from countless elected officials--have created an environment where nothing is considered sacred anymore. 

The report unequivocally shows landmarking and preservation is beneficial for the local economy--despite the REBNY narrative about stunting growth. Other REBNY lies were proven false as well like only affluent whites in Manhattan want to  preserve the city's heritage. Or that instead of being an impediment to creating affordable units, the creation of historic districts actually protects older housing stock, which is where many critical rent-regulated apartments are located. 

Here is my latest article: Council Eyes Barriers to Court Access for New Yorkers with Disabilities

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