In the Media

Construction to Align Fountain with Arch 2008

Just when you thought everyone in the mainstream media had forgotten about the Bloomberg Administration’s decision to align the Washington Square Fountain with Fifth Avenue and the Arch as part of its redesign plan (the fountain had stood regally in its original location for 137 YEARS), I came across this piece from writer Michael Gross at Crain’s NY Business. (This was a couple of weeks ago but still worth noting.)

New York Becoming Wisconsin:

The mayor’s domestication of Manhattan has gone far enough. It’s there in the nanny-state bans on foods, sodas and ciggies; the redesign of nasty, grotty, thrill-a-minute Times Square into a holding pen for clueless tourists; the move of the Washington Square fountain 22 feet to the east so it aligns with the arch and Fifth Avenue; even the routing of quirky neighborhood retailers and their replacement by Duane Reades, bank branches and chain stores—a perhaps unintended but definitely unpleasant side-effect of the mayor’s economic miracle. I recently called Time Warner Center the Short Hills Mall and someone said, “Don’t insult Short Hills like that.” Much as I like the visual vibrancy of the new Times Square, shut your eyes and listen to the voices around you, and you could be in Green Bay.

Enough with domestication. New Yorkers don’t want to be domesticated. We don’t want safe. We sometimes like scary. We don’t even always want clean. We’re not afraid of what’s around the corner; we rush toward it.

More at Crain’s.

For some history, see previous WSP Blog Post: Actually, Mr. Vellonakis, the Washington Square Park Fountain IS already aligned

Worth Checking Out — “The Bloomberg Era” by Photo Blogger Nathan Kensinger

Chez Brigitte, West Village, For Rent

As 2009 came to a close, Photo Blogger Nathan Kensinger put together an excellent photo and comprehensive written essay summing up “The Bloomberg Era.” It is worth a look ! This links to Part I (Part II is coming!).

Note: the photos on this site are not his but he is an excellent photographer and has captured the changing face of NYC and destructive nature of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policies on the character of our city’s neighborhoods at his blog.

Kensinger writes:

The Bloomberg administration focused on transforming the city’s landscape from its very first days in office. As the NY Times wrote in 2009, “the administration’s economic development policies started with a simple concept: New York must grow to compete with other cities. Development became the means toward that end.” Bloomberg’s pro-development policies created “a historic re-envisioning of New York City, one that loosened the reins on development across the boroughs and pushed more than 100 rezoning measures through a City Council that stamped them all into law... across the city, residential construction doubled under Mr. Bloomberg, to more than 30,000 units a year from 2004 through 2008… Construction spending has also doubled since he took office, reaching a high of $32 billion in 2008.”

Donuts Coffee Shop, Park Slope, No Longer

Not only has the residential landscape changed dramatically under the Bloomberg Administration but the hyper development has led to overarching changes to the type of businesses that can afford to operate – and survive – in the city.

Kensinger’s essay continues:

With the loss of small businesses, the commercial landscape of New York re-oriented towards chain stores – with cookie-cutter exteriors – that could afford to pay exorbitant rents. By mid-decade, New York’s commercial streetscape had become dominated by redundancy. A multitude of sterile bank branches opened, while chains like Duane Reade and Starbucks placed multiple store locations within a few blocks of each other, to monopolize neighborhoods. For the first time, big-box-stores were allowed to enter the city, like Home Depot in 2004 and Ikea in 2008, further endangering small businesses. Virginie-Alvine Perrette’s award-winning documentary “Twilight Becomes Night” (2008) perfectly encapsulated the loss of small businesses in New York, stating that “large chains, public policy and high rents” were putting NYC’s “locally owned stores… on a consistent path towards extinction.”

See the entire essay here.

Photo #1: Jeremoss

Photo #2: Benzado

“The Vanishing City” to screen Tuesday, Jan. 12th at Judson Memorial Church, 7 p.m.

“The Vanishing City,” a documentary by Fiore DeRosa and Jen Senko, will screen Tuesday, January 12th, 7 p.m. at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South at Thompson Street.

The Vanishing City exposes the real politic behind the alarming disappearance of New York’s beloved neighborhoods, the truth about its finance-dominated economy, and the myth of “inevitable change.” Artfully documented through interviews with – and testimony by – tenants, city planners, business owners, scholars, and politicians, the film takes a look at the city’s “luxury” policies and high-end development, the power role of the elite, and accusations of corruption surrounding land use and rezoning. The film also links NYC trends to other global cities where multinational corporations continue to victimize the middle and working classes.

$5 suggestion donation.

Last Call, Bohemia?

Greenwich Village, 1960

Will New York City recognize the importance of “Bohemia” in societies, including its own?

In a July ’08 Vanity Fair article titled “Last Call, Bohemia”, Christopher Hitchens observes how London, Paris and San Francisco — renowned for neighborhoods which foster climates of creativity and culture, havens for “the artists, exiles and misfits” — have “learned” and adopted a hands off policy towards building un-affordable, big box monstrosities in these areas.

What will it take for real-estate-obsessed New York City to do the same?

Hitchens’ focuses on these havens as places for people who “regenerate the culture.”  He targets the St. Vincents/Rudin Management “plan” to remake a large swath of the West Village for “luxury housing” and a new medical building as exactly the type development that should be stopped. He explores what it means not just the Village, but for the City at large.

Hitchens writes:

It isn’t possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals.

This little quarter should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran.

In her 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs argued for the need for “the old” amidst “the new.”  She wrote:

To be sure, city areas with flourishing diversity sprout strange and unpredictable uses and scenes. But this is not a drawback of diversity. This is the point, or part of it. That this should happen is in keeping with one of the missions of cities.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, there is the homogenization factor going on in our city… certainly our bland Mayor doesn’t get that “mission” that Jacobs refers to.  And our NY City Council, led by Speaker Christine Quinn, just falls in line with her friend and benefactor, thereby eliminating any protection or preservation of the unique in our city.

The City’s redesign plans for Washington Square Park further illustrate no understanding or acknowledgment (perhaps, indeed purposefully) of the “strange” (Jacobs’ term for something worth preserving) or the unique, bohemia or diversity.  The design, by landscape designer George Vellonakis, seems to purposefully gloss over – almost sneers at – what made the Park unique.

Instead of Mayor Mike’s emphasis on protecting Wall Street, real estate interests and tourism, wouldn’t we like to live in a place where the historical buildings throughout the West and East Village that NYU has subsumed would be off limits to being altered … forever

Hitchens concludes:

Those who don’t live in such threatened districts nonetheless have a stake in this quarrel and some skin in this game, because on the day when everywhere looks like everywhere else we shall all be very much impoverished, and not only that but-more impoverishingly still-we will be unable to express or even understand or depict what we have lost.

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*This is a revised and edited version of a post first published on June 18th, 2008.*

Photo: Ed Yourdon

New film on pre-gentrified Williamsburg “Brooklyn DIY” Premieres at MOMA Wed. Feb. 25th

Brooklyn DIY, a new film by director and artist Marcin Ramocki, will get its premiere Wednesday night, February 25th, at MOMA.

The Village Voice writes:

When did you know it was over for Williamsburg? Was it the day the first luxury condo was sold? Or the first time you saw a Ramones baby onesie in a Bedford Avenue shop? In his new film Brooklyn DIY, director and artist Marcin Ramocki, whose recent project was the video game documentary 8 BIT, examines the creative renaissance that arose in Williamsburg in the early ’80s and the gentrification that forced out the artists who once settled there for the cheap rents—not the chance to purchase a $12 cocktail.

Watch the trailer for the film here.

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan

Wed. Feb 25th, 8:30 p.m.,

film length: 75 minutes, discussion with the director and participants follows, $6 students, $10 adults.

Ticket details here.

“The Vanishing City” event a success !

The Vanishing City event Saturday night 1/24 at The New Dixon Place (a pre-opening event) was a sold-out success! The film “Twilight Becomes Night” movingly emphasized why our local “mom and pop” stores are so important to communities (and our sense of community) vs. endless blocks of Duane Reade, Chase banks, Staples, and Starbucks. The preview trailer of the film “Vanishing New York” looks great. I met the filmmakers Jen Senko and Fiore DeRosa and look forward to seeing the finished result coming this spring.

Kirby from Colonnade Row organized the event. (You can read his report back on it here.) New York State Assembly Member Deborah Glick was particularly hard hitting and didn’t spare any words as to her feelings about Mayor Bloomberg! (Hint: Not so positive.) All the panelists, the moderation, the vibe, etc. were excellent and the turnout reflected the interest – and concern over – our Vanishing City.

The topics discussed – the non-stop giveaways to developers and corporations under the Bloomberg Administration; the lack of emphasis on preserving and valuing community; people and their neighborhoods being sold out for the benefit of real estate interests and “luxury” housing; community members being denied a voice in the “process” – are all relevant in relation to what’s transpired at Washington Square Park thus far.

When asked, Andrew Berman from Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) didn’t have a clear answer as to why his organization supported – or purposefully abstained from taking a real position on– Mayor Bloomberg’s radical revisioning of Washington Square Park.

I have a lot of respect for the work GVSHP does. But that decision truly is a puzzling one. The old ‘line’ that the park needed a “renovation” just isn’t an appropriate one anymore. We all agree on that. The work being done is not a renovation. (In discussing Washington Square Park, Deborah Glick spared no words for the New York City Parks Department declaring it “arrogant” and stated that the tone is set from the top – meaning Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. Correction: I’ve been informed that she meant Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Unfortunately, they’re both arrogant!) Berman asserted that landscape designer George Vellonakis, who is in charge of the park’s redesign and inexplicably also on the board of GVSHP, recused himself from any votes in the matter. But the fact that he’s on the board is telling enough.

(Original details about the event here.)

NYC: The Vanishing City: Films and Discussion Saturday, January 24th

The Vanishing City Event 1/24

The Vanishing City Event 1/24

A topic I’ve tried to explore on Washington Square Park Blog over the last year are the dramatic changes going on in New York City under Mayor Bloomberg.

Our CEO Mayor’s pro-development, pro-corporate interests, massive re-zonings, and anti-community initiatives are all dramatically accelerating the pace of change in New York, destroying the fabric, the underpinning, of what makes New York New York – its unique, gritty, welcoming to all, pace-setting, dynamic edge.

Evidence of these initiatives exist across the city’s five boroughs. See: Coney Island, Willets Point, Yankee Stadium land grab and park destruction in the Bronx, Lower East Side/Chinatown re-zonings, Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards debacle, NYU and Columbia University’s mammoth, soulless expansions, the overtaking of Harlem, and, of course, Washington Square Park, among too many others.

We can welcome the future without bulldozing the past.

But not Mayor Bloomberg and his corporate allies … they wish to create a homogenized, bland version of New York. Emphasis on corporatization, privatization, tourism, real estate, Wall Street (you see how well that’s been going, eh?). To do this, the past must disappear. It challenges and hinders their efforts. It reminds people of what once was – and can be.

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Now, at last, an event, with two films and discussion, is happening, the first of others, the organizers say.

Details:

THE VANISHING CITY
Saturday, January 24 – 8PM
The NEW Dixon Place Theater; 161 Chrystie Street (Rivington/Delancey), Manhattan
RSVP: 212 219-0736 x113

$20 includes reception with panel to follow event
$15 general admission; $12 seniors/students/discount code

Proceeds benefit the funding of the film “Vanishing New York” and community programs at Dixon Place.

FEATURING-

A screening of the acclaimed short film “Twilight Becomes Night
A preview of the work-in-progress film Vanishing New York
And a panel of activists and preservationists taking audience questions:

-Andrew Berman, Executive Director, Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation
-Bettina Domiani, Director, Good Jobs New York
-Deborah Glick, New York State Assemblymember
-Jen Senko & Fiore DeRosa, Directors/Producers, “Vanishing New York”

Moderated by Michael Karp; Curated by Jen Senko & Fiore DeRosa

Luxury development is radically changing the face and faces of New York City. The middle class, small businesses and artists are being priced out at an alarming rate. You can’t stop development, so how then do you preserve the things that make this city one of the most unique places in the world?

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Jeremiah at Vanishing New York blog (not affiliated with the film) interviewed the director of “Twilight Becomes Night,” Virginie-Alvine Perrette, here.

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New Blog entries resume Monday, January 26th!

Why Mayor Bloomberg Wants Redesign of Washington Square Park

Before Mayor Bloomberg‘s well orchestrated push to overturn voted-in term limits (with the complicity of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and 28 other members), the mainstream media applied a general lack of scrutiny to his actions. More recently, some light has been shone on the man behind the curtain. Until now, the Mayor had almost succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of our city.

His initiatives include: taking over control of schools (with parents outraged over the non-stop testing) – and then cutting funding from them, privatizing our public parks, eliminating recycling(until activists got on his case, along with the NYC Comptroller), cut backs to libraries and senior centers, issuing non-stop Tax breaks to billionaire developers and corporations & misusing confiscations through eminent domain so that our city is basically owned by corporate interests, besieged by “luxury” housing.

The list goes on and on.

We’re on the precipice of WHAT OUR CITY IS GOING TO LOOK LIKE for the NEXT 30 YEARS. Drastic changes are being made with his finger on all the triggers. I could coexist with our billionaire Mayor if he’d keep on his side of the room. I’d stay on mine. Unfortunately, he owns the room. So what then?

Mayor Bloomberg’s imprint is stamped all over what is happening at Washington Square Park. From the complicity of the City Council members (specifically Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Alan Gerson – it’s Gerson’s district), to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to the Arts Commission to the Community Board. However, despite the Mayor’s control and wishes, even the local Community Board voted against the Park’s “renovation,” albeit on the third try, once they recognized the arrogance and duplicity of the New York City Parks Department in ignoring their requests for information. Yet, from NYU to the “Tisch Fountain,” Mayor Bloomberg’s privatization agenda looms large.

The dramatic disruption of Washington Square Park, against the wishes of – and without input from – the community, has been termed Bloomberg’s “pet project.”

Why…? Because Washington Square Park is the antithesis of Michael Bloomberg’s “vision” of New York City a freewheeling cacophonous non-permitted jumble of free speech, free music, free performance, free political debate – and police cameras all over the place. Washington Square Park at one point housed more surveillance cameras per square foot than any other 9 acre area in NYC. Bloomberg has made no proposal to remove or reduce the surveillance, only the public activities they are surveiling.

Mayor Bloomberg’s lifeline is being a CEO of a corporation. He can pretend he gets this whole democracy ‘thing’ (while buying his way into it) — but that’s a farce.

Gawker recently covered what it’s really like to work at Bloomberg L.P., the corporation he founded, and how astonishing it is that the appalling conditions there have not merited more coverage (instead .. it’s as if he liberated City Hall by banishment of walls and dividers!). Read about this here: The Other Reason Mayor Mike Couldn’t Run.

* Note: A slightly different version of this post first appeared on March 4th, 2008. *

The Blanding of New York City: Why It’s Time for Mayor Mike to Go

Mayor Bloomberg "Dead End"

Mayor Bloomberg at a "Dead End"

As we watch Mayor Michael Bloomberg unfold his intricately orchestrated master plan to maintain his reign of power, there are more than a few reasons why New York will be quite finethank you very muchwithout our billionaire Mayor. You know, the one who seems to think we can’t manage without him, utilizing fear to push his agenda.

Our CEO Mayor has the media locked up and the existing City Council leadership (under Speaker Christine Quinn) willing to bow to his wish to overturn voted-in two term limits — with the, um, added benefit that they get to retain their positions also. (Who can take their actions seriously unless they take a principled stand?)

Mayor Mike got rid of the one guy who could match him in ad spending (see Ronald Lauder, former ambassador to Austria – who knew? – and Estee Lauder cosmetic empire heir) instructing him not to cause a fuss or he’d be ousted from their exclusive social and business circles — despite term limits being this billionaire’s issue for at least 15 years.

The City’s other billionaires, CEOs and corporate executives are advocating right and left for their friend Bloomie to linger at City Hall, no matter what it takes. Who cares if it’s a power grab, illegal and anti-democratic? Bloomberg figures he can listen to the people whine for a little while, ride that wave, and then buy them off with another $100 million worth of advertising.

Memo to Mayor Mike: I think you may at last have overreached.

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Why I think our city will more than thrive without Mayor Bloomberg…

The International Herald Tribune reported in June that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg “has rezoned vast swaths of the city to accommodate bigger, more densely populated buildings, encouraging the construction of millions of square feet of office space, hotel rooms and housing. Over all, the number of construction permits for new buildings or major renovations issued by the Department of Buildings has soared 23.3 percent over the past five years.”

The result of all this is a construction boom. The developers also get tax breaks making it oh so easy for them to put up large signs on virtually every block on their glossy glass buildings with the same two words: “luxury housing.” Existing tenants in smaller, quaint buildings get displaced, the buildings are torn down, diversity and any resemblance to the ‘past’ is bulldozed over. Neighborhood after neighborhood starts to look the same. (One other repercussion? Oh right. Monstrous cranes have toppled over. People die and are injured. With all this building, you want oversight?)

As these changes go on around them, long-time landlords with long-time small business tenants start to raise rents, doubling, tripling the figures and those tenants are soon gone and replaced.

As if they’re expendable. As if they never existed. The fabric of one too many neighborhoods is frayed, coming apart at the seams.

Yet, this is the climate Mayor Bloomberg’s New York promotes and encourages.

Juan Gonzalez wrote “Lower East Side rezone plan another Mike Bloomberg boondoggle” in the July 17th New York Daily News:

“Theirs [Chinatown/Lower East Side residents] is a story that has become all-too familiar during the Bloomberg era: another stable neighborhood turned upside down by a massive rezoning. The sheer number of these rezonings – from Columbia University to Hudson Yards to Greenpoint-Williamsburg (Brooklyn) to Willets Point – boggles the mind. City officials routinely claim it’s for the good of the neighborhoods, but in the end a handful of well-connected developers and Big Box stores end up the big winners.”

The fact is – it’s no coincidence that the city is vanishing at such a quick pace. While there’s no real funding for schools or libraries or park maintenance in our neighborhoods, there is always money for Wall Street and developers and corporate executives. Since the media rarely reports on this and, if they do, avoids linking this to Mayor Bloomberg and his policies, the public remains largely unaware.

The blanding of our city continues on, in neighborhood after neighborhood, public space after public space, to create the bland yet affluent City that Mayor Bloomberg, a billionaire, envisions. It’s a less interesting one but the billionaires and their friends are happy. That’s what matters, right?

No. It’s time for the city to catch its breath. To attempt to make up for this blatant, expanded, accelerated loss of its character over seven years.

As we’ve seen, what works for Wall Street and Corporate America doesn’t really work for the rest of us. They want to maintain a certain lifestyle and will do whatever it takes to do so. Michael Bloomberg’s decision to stay on as Mayor of New York City in defiance of democracy has nothing to do with New York City and everything to do with Michael Bloomberg and his ego.

It is time for Mayor Mike to go.

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Photo: RS Eanes

(Part of this post appeared on July 17th, 2008. This is a different and expanded version.)

Book On Tompkins Square Park; Corresponding NY Times’ story: “East Village, Before the Gentry”

There’s a new book entitled, “Tompkins Square Park” by photographer Q. Sakamaki in which he documents Tompkins Square Park in the late ’80’s through today: the changes that have swept through the Park and its surrounding East Village neighborhood.

It is twenty years ago this week since the famous Tompkins Square Park riots – something that is difficult to imagine happening today (the most famous one was provoked by a 1 a.m. curfew in that Park, seen as representative of massive and unwelcome changes being inflicted on the neighborhood). It’s not that I want that to happen. However, there is an equal amount of social injustice today and anger in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. It’s hidden behind a societal malaise with a blind eye to the damage inflicted to people amidst the the monumental changes being pushed throughout our city. Yet It’s not just malaise. These changes are obscured from most people’s eyes and wrapped with a bow around Mayor Bloomberg’s “hero to the City” image. They’re hidden behind mammoth glass buildings once inhabited by a diverse mix of people not quite as shiny who are quietly pushed out. There is the attitude: “If you can’t afford to live here, get out.”

The changes to our public spaces, particularly Washington Square Park, reflect this also.

Colin Moynihan writes about the book and its author in today’s New York Times‘ story “East Village, Before the Gentry:”

Twenty years ago this week the neighborhood was also much like a war zone as protesters clashed with police officers seeking to enforce a curfew in the park. Mr. Sakamaki’s book is timed to that anniversary and documents the street skirmishes, yet it is also a kind of manifesto.

“This book focuses on Tompkins Square Park as the symbol and stronghold of the anti-gentrification movement, the scene of one of the most important political and avant-garde movements in New York history,” Mr. Sakamaki writes in an introduction.

Strolling through the neighborhood, he elaborated, saying that he favors safe streets and finds no romance in poverty. But, he said, change that is primarily driven by monetary profit “destroys the lives of poor or weak people.”

As his black-and-white photographs make clear, Mr. Sakamaki found much that was life-affirming amid the conflict and penury. The energy and camaraderie of people who banded together in adversity appealed to him; so did the desire of East Villagers to create their own social order even as they received little help from mainstream society.

See New York Times slide show of photographer Q. Sakamaki’s Tompkins Square Park book.