Tale of Two CTs

City Center
Lincoln Square
Compare

To examine the building footprints in greater detail Google Map “Mandalay Bay & S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV” for the City Center and “Columbus Circle, New York City.” The street grid and building footprints for City Center provide for massive building enclosures as compared to the pedestrian-oriented portion of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square just south of the famed Lincoln Center.

Robert Venturi once observed Las Vegas as the only uniquely American expression of architecture. No one ever says it is a product of thoughtful planning. In 2006, when MGM Mirage and partners decided to build City Center, Las Vegas, NV, the news in New York aptly described it as an entertainment-based retail project. A comparison with an older effort confirms why metaphor-desperate architecture critics get super busy; however, I think lousy planning is the more useful element to engage. Enter stage left, Lincoln Square, Center, and Circle.

A viewpoint for examining the similarities and differences from one other kind of uniqueness can be useful. America is not built on ancient traditions, universal religion, ethnicity, or race; its founders had the idea that a nation could be built on ideals. The principles of human dignity are given the highest value. Without the rigorous implementation of this core value, community development tends to fail this purpose. The question is not if the development practice in Lincoln Square, NYC, and City Center, Las Vegas was racist. The question is, how much racism is in play?

These two real estate investments are instructive of American urban development. They stand fifty years apart, but it might as well be five centuries regarding their exposure to values. Robert Moses broke ground on the Lincoln Center project with President Eisenhower. The biography of both patriarchs confirms a systemic racism component. Both believed Black people should be treated equally but did not think they were equal, and many of the policies and actions of both remain as proof.

Lincoln Square is an example of racialized architecture in New York City because its backdoor (parking/shipping) was placed on Amsterdam adjacent to public housing and the entry plaza favored the Broadway/Columbus intersection. This was a reasonable architectural decision for many reasons, however, one reason rarely, if ever mentioned is that architecture as a profession has no design solution for racism. They are subservient, the racism of their clients is included. The profession received clear notice of this problem in 1968 at their 100th convention (here).

Lincoln Center’s development is not as apparent as the proliferation of Confederate monuments from 1900 to through the 1920s, which continues through the 1950s. It was not used to support segregation with warlike intimidation. It found and developed rules of law to demolish a mostly Black neighborhood. The rise of the Civil Rights Movement pushes back, and Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Park is now Emancipation Park. A record of this effort is kept by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). On the other hand, the high culture of Lincoln Center uses the grade sheet of their traditions. As such, they seek to convert participants into high arts as their earnest effort to confront racism in order to claim success in their terms.

Lincoln Center represent issues that architectural design or sculpted monuments cannot handle, its creation was born of the slum clearance, race intimidation movement known as Urban Renewal. It developed through the redlined 50s and into the late 60s in NYC. The civil rights response pushes back but is compelled to accept reconciliation measures. Those who fought point rightly to these fruits. Reconciliation also occurs in the offerings of special district law in 1969. The roots of the Lincoln Square District can point, a bit remarkably to its transformation into a comprehensive inclusionary zoning law, albeit fifty years later. As a program, the special district design attacked the southern diaspora of poverty into the North with displacement strategies. As for tactics, restitution-like compromises such as the promise of affordable housing and well-funded ‘top-down” cultural services can be agreeable goals to the “fighters” and the losses, grave as they may be, deemed acceptable.

Understanding the rectitude of these programs provides the added depth needed to understand the term “systemic” in relationship to race and economic change.  The displacement practice, once quoted to me once as, “you are free, just not here, because you can’t afford it,” continues to this day and well examined in a report from the University of Pennsylvania’s City Planning program (here).  Displacement is a percentage game and if human dignity was the measure, the players on both sides are loosing. Penn’s work is an excellent update of a book by Chester Hartman, “Displacement: How to Fight It” developed with Dennis Keating and Richard LeGates (1981). The truth in both publications now decades apart is the displacement process has only changed on the margins. Therein lies the terror of it all.

2009

2018

A small portion of New York City (Map: CT 145) covers an area of eight typical city blocks just west of Central Park. It had a 2000 population of 4,500 people living in 2,900 housing units that sustains a low vacancy rate of about 2%. The land area is 60 acres to yield a residential density of 48,000 people per square mile. (Facts to be updated following 2020 Census – see below.)

The area includes the Fordham University Law School and it is just south of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Juilliard School, and a dozen other cultural miracles. It is not just a neighborhood composed of multiple story apartment buildings, it is a destination experience established by cultural centers, the splendor of Central Park’s open space, and the Time Warner 12-story, shopping “mall” without the standing auto-surround. The daytime population density can be doubled with ease, and well supported by a transit system at this location that can deliver 5,000 people per hour, 24/7/365.

Zoning Resolution Chapter: 82-00 Map:  8c Effective Date: 4/24/69

The public goal (1969) of the Special Lincoln Square District is to enhance the area as an international center for the performing arts. To achieve this goal urban design along Broadway will follow street line rules. Arcades for interior urban-room retail and service facilities provide a compromise for regulation and limits on street-level uses. Supply-side development bonuses are through special permits that offer added square footage for housing rented at lower (but not low) rents governed by the rules of Inclusionary Housing R10. and subway improvements. The demand side bets on good shows, a friendly neighborhood, and a sincere hope that the NYC mass transit services do not collapse.

Lincoln Center is a life-long learning opportunity in community development. Despite a long history of cultural engagement efforts as compensation for a vast mid-50s clearance of thousands of families, a tabula rasa planning strategy, and elements such as the fortress edge at Amsterdam Avenue, the entire project remains an unfulfilled story of transitional urban power.  Its future continues to be written for the success it still might get, not by crossing Amsterdam, but in recognizing how well the social fabric of this part of Manhattan is willing to attack its drift into a binary culture and ignore new opportunities that offer exceptional new levels of depth.

Instantanious Urbanism

The comparison with another entertainment-retail center for the high-spend culture has America written all over it. It is instructive of the “binary-problem” and a warning of competing solely for the high-end. The City Center was a five-year design and build “hit”, not unlike graffiti, but way neat and well worth the time exploring innovations.

The $9+ Billion Las Vegas City Center (left to right): KPF’s Mandarin Hotel, (392) Libeskind, and Rockwell’s Crystal’s premium goods mall, Pelli’s Aria, (4,000) Helmut Jahn’s Veer, (335) Foster’s ill-fated Harmon. (demolition was in 2015) Also in the City Center, Rafael Viñoly Vara hotel and residences (1,495). A “who’s who” of architect high-end destination creation. The City Center project broke ground in 2006, and despite significant construction difficulties, including nine deaths in sixteen months, the new skyline hit the press in late 2009. The plan for this massive development was based on speed regardless of the human cost and a systemic “rent-comes-first” problem.

The entire project is symbolized by the demolition of Foster’s Harmon hotel, but like New York City’s development projects, the larger effort survived the 2008 recession. In Las Vegas, all bets are all on the black. Undeterred, billions spent in building the City Center out of nothing that can be remembered occurred even though Las Vegas sits amidst, the aridest desert on Earth. Most of the 2.6 million residents trust in the spin on Lake Mead as shrinking (or not) rejecting any notion of a prolonged era of despair due to the rains of 2016/17.

The fresh knowledge of anguish from the City Center project became available when the Las Vegas Sun received a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the causes of construction deaths and lax regulatory assessments. The tragedy of a worker’s family is described (here). All of the stories by Las Vegas Sun for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Public Service can be read (here), one-story points to NYC’s positive response to construction safety. Please read the work of Alexandra Berzon of the Sun who explored the pace, fear, and death and terror that accompanied the creation of City Center before taking in the five minutes on the spin on the final product in the following presentation.

Bill Smith managed construction of the $9 billion City Center completed in 60 months.

All of Las Vegas began as a city of no rules sprawl. The property taken didn’t make the news. It produced thousands of hotel and residential condo-units spread through multiple structures on a 67-acre site. The Vara overlaps residence floors with a 1,500-room hotel. Regular housing is included in the Mandarin Oriental and a 37-floor twin tower. The housing and related residential accommodations combine a complex of hotels, shops, and gambling entertainment. Whether the housing is composed of permanent residents or time-shared ‘hotel-condo’ participants is of small consequence. The community with this density can resolve the service implications with reasonable ease based on density. That leaves median-income and whether racial and gender disparities are becoming dispositive.

Developing business models on the provision of unique destination-retail cultures (high or low) are coupled with a base of rental units, permanent, and condo-hotel housing. Development of this kind suggests the need for a comparison built on the demography of a place, before, during, and after. Such a comparison could yield measures by which the fast “time is money” impact of capital project disruptions that often lead to forced and economic displacement also provide proof of balance. There would be sufficient generational investment for those found in the wake of this harm that it will never occur to that household again. It would be a guarantee, a promise that the cycle of poverty ends with an emphasis on every child regardless of the cost.

AKA: Near Win Wheel

The resident population of Las Vegas will be close to three million people in 2020, and prior to the 2020 pandemic, this city had 42.52 million visitors in 2019. There are just two “isms” that describe gambling in Vegas, “tourism” and “capitalism.”

The increased competition for gamblers as entertainment-based retail, comes clear in a joke you would not hear at City Center. “What is the difference between an online casino and a live casino? – When you lose online and cry, no one will laugh at you.” The enclosures of the modern casino encourage over-confidence, leading to the illusion of security. Our brains like this as a sense of pleasure and contributes to the idea that an educated guess can be precise. Illusions of control also negate outcomes of chance into more extreme emotions such as a “near win” means getting close to one.

To the visitor, the core illusion is gambling is a personal decision not influenced by the environment or knowledge of “the odds.” Both support and encourage the fantasy of winning and a sense of superiority despite a uniform failure (not-wining) rate. This phenomenon is well understood; however, the public policy allows gambling while discouraging it as a dangerous, potentially addictive practice.

A growing proportion of society participates in gambling. The economic impact occurs in every public jurisdiction. It is not treated as a preventable problem, but a percentage of the population issue, leaving it to post-trauma “hot-lines” to resolve. Proof of a high-quality education system will occur when the “casino” as a land-use disappears or when no one other than the fabled 1% gamble.

Demographic Comparisons

Every resident, business, and neighborhood in the nation has a census tract. The Bureau of the Census has made significant improvements in providing online access to data for the ordinary person and there are thousands of tables on who we are as a nation, city, state, county. The census tract is the “where” of this data and it adds knowledge. Knowing the actual condition of our lives yields an assessment of fitness and reasons for action based on comparisons. The first and most important bit of that knowledge is to know that the harsh gavel of the patriarchy used to hammer society into submission cannot be used to dismantle that house effectively, one must know how the house got there in the first place.

The creation of the structures you enter to live, work, shop or play must be safe structures. To assure these objectives, the regulations governing land use and the practice of architecture, engineering, and construction are strict. When errors are discoverer and repair is impossible, the building comes down as in the case of Foster’s building in Las Vegas. The structures also have social and economic impacts, but these products are not well regulated or measured. The ideals of the American Constitution demand fair measures of equal treatment under the law, of fair and just compensation and unfettered access to quality education, and a “we the people” promise of fairness in the pursuit of happiness.

Following you will find a glimpse of the 2010 data on two U.S. Census tracts illustrated in the description of these two locations. This glimpse will await the final publication of the 2020 Census. It can be said with fairness that both locations are products of a largely racist power structure focused solely on the flow of capital as exhibited by the value of the real estate. The fulfillment of America’s constitutional ideals is deemed irrelevant or at best, secondary to that flow of capital.  Ironically, improving the flow of capital is touted as the best remedy to whatever set of problems a social justice agenda might present. The quality of life, therefore, becomes a material consequence of profit, and rightly so, until a tipping point occurs when the measure of quality lowers to an ability to subsist.

Population, Sex, and Race

Census Tract 145 Manhattan (2018 estimates) has a total population of 5,960. It is 64.4% White, Non-Hispanic, and 38% of the population 15 years and older have never married. Census Tract 68 Las Vegas (2018 estimates), has a total population of 5,077. The White, Non-Hispanic population is 23.2%, and 45% of the population 15 years and older have never married.

2010 City Center (CT 68)
Total population3,986
Median age (years)35.1
Sex ratio (males per 100 females)101.9
Age dependency ratio56.6
Old-Age dependency ratio17.0
Child dependency ratio39.6
One race99.0%
White74.9%
Black or African American7.4%
American Indian and Alaska Native0.0%
Asian4.6%
Some other race12.3%
Two or more races1.0%
Hispanic or Latino origin (any race)45.4%
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino41.7%
2020 City Center (CT 68)
to be written

2010 Lincoln Square (CT 145)
Total population6,245
Median age (years)34.3
Sex ratio (males per 100 females)105.0
Age dependency ratio33.8
Old-Age dependency ratio20.2
Child dependency ratio13.6
One race97.3%
White79.0%
Black or African American3.8%
American Indian and Alaska Native0.3%
Asian12.2%
Some other race1.4%
Two or more races2.7%
Hispanic or Latino origin any race)14.4%
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino69.4%
2020 Lincoln Square (CT 145)
to be written

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Embed Density

highwater

We live in a culture that embeds information, and where the most important things tend to go unsaid. All of us put information into machines that will retrieve data on practically anything imaginable from an alarm clock to an AI for more complex decision-making. Perhaps this will release the unsaid portions about the vital function of cities in human life.

A recent Rolling Stone article by Jeff Goodell (Flooded City) does not make this point directly but exhibits its results with great clarity. Goodell talks about flooding in New York involving high or low ground impacts with storm surge or microburst variables. The unsaid stuff defines a vast combination of intellectual and architectural ramparts outlined as plans in a series of locations throughout New York City.

A talking head presentation at the New America Civic Hall (9.15.16) proved to be very un-civic but managed to remain polite. All New Yorkers will look at a sea rise map, make a quick am “I in or out” assessment and log that in for a personal assessment of risk. Many of the people attending were either outside the lines. Those who were wet on the map and had an obvious self-interest with the prospect of land poverty, but could not express them over all the talk of the new walls, ramparts, bounded rationality and cognitive dissonance in the presentation about investments in resilience.

Promises

I have a suggestion on how to escape the Chicken Little problems the “flooded city” approach creates. The last half of the American century has offered two promises (maybe three). The first is the promise to eliminate disadvantage as discovered by the individual, the family, community, and nation. The American vocabulary, its literature, art, law, and architecture present an exquisite language born of the poetry and forums of each for change and communication. The framers of the Constitution strengthen us. We have been given the tools, created the space, and found ways to speak truth to power. We are skilled in the dialogue. We remain encouraged by each battle for social justice and civil society. We are routinely encouraged to confront the world’s history in ways that will keep that promise alive.

The second promise while not as refined, adds powerful new energy to the promise of eliminating disadvantage.  It is the promise of sustainability. From the Club of Rome to its reflective twenty-five-year reunion at the Smithsonian, a more accurate word, Resilience, now communicates the correct challenge as well as imply a variety of post-trauma conditions. We now deploy resilience officers throughout the world, but their task is not to look at high water and low land. The resilience mission is different – find ways to draw a line in the sand. It matters far less about where there will be high water until we know how to draw that line in the sand. There is no crystal ball. Pointing to facts is all that can be done. Describe where a part of the sky has fallen. Right now that is more useful than why to avoid tragedy.

rollingstonegoodell

Historically, when it comes to a resilience challenge, there is the “duck and cover” hedge and the old MAD way. The worldview of mutually assured destruction is also composed of private investors who are very active in their demand for public dollars to drive down risk. We need a much broader outline of ways to invest publically in resilience that may come down to clearly explaining the difference between the circle and the grid in urban design as we see it in the national highway system and the urban crisis.

The content embedded in the promises leading to eliminating disadvantage through fairness and sustainability can help define the architecture presented as walls and ramparts that encircle something. In this design here is an inside and an outside. Without injecting these two promises into the process, the design of the walls and ramparts will do more damage than any violent fire or storm.

Future articles and public discussion should take a lesson from Elizabeth Kolbert. Her extraordinary review of the science of global change over the last half-billion years defines our entry into the Anthropocene epoch, the knowledge of which might save us all.

Elizabeth Kolbert is author of Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Sixth Extinction


The Isle de-Jean Charles

It is time to get dangerously practical about the local impact of global problems. I would apply the Isle de-Jean Charles Climate Change Refugees (video here) to a New York City example: The action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two-percent of their land. (get the untold story on the 98%). Can New York or any other city afford to set that standard or hedge that bet, that way?

Un-rough the math here,  $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households applied to the 35,000 families in let’s say, Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The bill would come to $175 billion. Resettlement at 20HH/year would take a millennium. At 500 HH/year, the cost would be $2.5 billion/year, and it would take 70 years. Buy the property, strip it of its toxins, wait for the ocean to come and you have an artificial reef over the foundations, counter the acidity and make seafood.

An investment of this kind protects the future. It would prevent the “land poverty” plan currently in play that will reflect the tragedy of the ramparts, not the water. For a place like Canarsie, or the Rockaways (the natural rampart), the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in place, or just another caveat emptor slap in the face, aimed at people of color.

Truth to power, you cannot get that pitiful amount today for a place like Canarsie. The policy for change remains in the MAD world of catastrophic resolution. The Chicken Little approach does not have a chance unless you do one simple thing. Put that line in the sand and be a little scary.  Draw the wall, present its ramparts across the landscape of NYC or any other place on the planet, and have the courage to ask and answer two questions.  

Who’s In? Who’s out? Straight up, without weapons, humans are not built to kill, no claws or fangs, but when one group of humans is forced to say to another group facing a life-threatening condition “you are not selected” now or even in the evolutionary sense, I do not know which group is worse off.

Rex L. Curry

A third promise awaits development given an implementation plan.  The positive side of the formation of ramparts and walls is the opportunity to recognize a dense, contained urban life offering new forms of growth. The challenge is to put a stop to the grid humans have drawn on the earth.  The grid is a symbol of the infinite. The sphere or circle is limited. The fuel of unlimited growth within this circle (ramparts and all) is to develop methods for all that enters the encircled urban world will leave in a non-toxic form. Today over 80% of what flows out is toxic.

Today the planners, engineers, architects, and climate scientists assess the impact of the sea rise, storm surges and microbursts pounding down the Hudson River Valley on the city’s property. The Flooded City article points out the big picture these professionals paint for owners and policymakers.

For example, a rise in sea level far less than a meter places 71,500 buildings and $100 billion of property in NYC’s high-risk flood zones. Sea rise is not a complex assessment. Remote earth sensing devices can measure elevation to less than a meter. Some devices calculate small fluctuations in gravitational forces, and for any area in question, can do so in real time. The ramparts and walls encircling vulnerable properties using these tools also exhibit a variety of wrongheaded priorities of great value for reforms and the discussion of fairness.

The below-ground world of tunnels and conduit (vehicles, gas, power, clean, gray and black water) of New York City is not climate proof.  Given the positives of the walls and ramparts, the capacity to fragment infrastructure systems to function independently is implied, but the policy is dishonest unless the question “who is in and out” is answered.

Global processes are geologically instantaneous events in the context of the last half-billion years. They occur daily but remain well outside of human experience. We are unlikely to “duck and cover” or step back from the waves of an unobservable rise of the ocean at the base of a massive river basin. Creating the incentives to do so is the challenge of our time.

Nevertheless, insisting the acquisition and removal of toxins from NYC’s waterfront and flood-prone zones may be the best plan of action for no other reason that it will take a century to accomplish. The planning work as it stands today favors protecting property in the short term. It emanates from the boardrooms and public conferences in the old way.  It is about producing jobs through relatively high yield, short-term investments under the heading of resiliency. The discussion of the chemical, biological, and most importantly, financial toxins encircled by these old ways requires a sharper focus by its critics.

Midtown Eastside

432aerial

Manhattan is a “playground” for wealth with an interest in keeping enough households to assure maintenance and basic services. It is called eighty-twenty. The building at 432 Park Avenue is its new beacon, sans the “twenty”. All 104 condos are sold, including the penthouse at $95 million. The lower cost units started at $7 million.

New York City’s building machine exhibition has begun. (Have a look http://432parkavenue.com).  What do machines need?  People to maintain them.

In October 2012, Aaron Betsky of Architect thought it oozed privilege and wealth, but it did so with, “elegance, borne out of its simplicity as much as its height, that make it clear that it is still possible to make a beautiful skyscraper.

More about Aaron Betsky’s argument is in this 12min. video

432 Park Avenue is taller than One World Trade Centre by ten meters, discounting the height of its spire and it has started something that is much bigger than big buildings.  It is the percentages.

“I see the Macklowe building down Park when I step out my front door at East 89th. In the morning, the pure square building, with its huge square windows, does have a Brutalist cast, but it also has a haunting aspect, like a painting by Giorgio de Chirico. The night is my favorite time, the deep blue of the protective film on the window glass giving the building a lonely, melancholy aspect as if it were the only one of its type on Park Avenue. Which, for the moment, it is.”

December 2012, the Real Estate Section of the New York Times

432 Park Ave. is not on Park Avenue, but it is “big” enogh to be there.

A machine city is a thing of parts designed and operated by people running corporations to fulfill functions. The fate of 36 East 57th St. next to 432 Park Avenue illustrates the function of density as a creator and destroyer of the city’s machine parts.

The difference in the photograph (top left) to the photo below illustrates the power of the 432 building (bottom). It displaced the little 36 building (middle photo) for $65 million. Its land area is just 5,020 sq. ft. The gross floor area of the building was just 77,500 square feet. A new building can be four times this amount but wait. The 432 building topped off at 96 stories in 2015. The lot area is 34,472 sq. ft. While the 432 lot is seven times larger than the 36 building, it produced a tenfold increase in gross floor area at 745,174 sq. ft.. Three hundred people in the building would make the density per square mile at just over 200,000 people. A density handled easily in New York.  If density is not the problem, what is?  Can you give me a twenty on that?

The $65M acquisition of the 36 building brings the cost of an acre in this part of Manhattan to $1.2 billion. The price is high, but it is an expense of an inconvenience adjacent to the extreme presented by 432 Park Avenue. The 21st century like every century before will consume everything in the 20th deemed unworthy of its history. The bar is set high and the demand for more feet, more stories, more rent, people, and machines to run them is clear.

The current resident community known as Turtle Bay and Midtown East responded with their own zoning initiative, but the issue is less about zoning that what the old zoning allowed developers to conceive and what it portends for the future of Manhattan.  They hired consultants and produced detailed images and zoning text available (here). As the East River 50s Alliance, they resist the possibility of the following potential development scheme produced for them by Michael Kwartler & Associates (ESC). The 432 Park Ave. building is not pictured.  It is on 57th Street and three blocks to the east (Third, Lexington and Park). The building’s Park Avenue address, when it is actually on 57th Street between Park and Madison is side story on corruption.  You out there, any ideas?

Current Zoning

Zoning and Height is Not the Right Question

The right question is why these new, enormously profitable buildings are not LEED Platinum and engaged in creating the demand for new industry, jobs and investment that address global warming issues, affordable housing. It just because of the condo loop-hole?

Require them to be sustainable (not just profitable).  If they are not, the rest of the city will pay the price in more ways than one.  Let someone count the way, to the depth and breadth a city’s heart can reach. As this neighborhood (wealthier than most NYC neighborhoods) confronts the Department of City Planning’s substantial zoning powers the entire question of unsustainable development is drowned and silenced by the litigiously dull, sad and excruciating weak arguments against the police power of zoning. The fear of building height or the effect of a building’s mass on the city is a fear of the unknown.  It is composed of two main elements. The unknown of mass and the volume of people with money (m = ?V). It should be called the 80/20 problem in reverse.

Inclusionary zoning (IZ) is a tool developed in New York City’s never cold housing market for the production of workforce housing units.  The deal is 80% market rate 20% affordable based on the chart below. This policy among others helps to assure an accessible labor force and economic diversity in close proximity. Rent is affordable if it is around one-third of a household’s income.

A family of four would pay around $2,300 a month if 33% income using this measure.  Several adjustments are possible, but even this amount is less than the 2016 median rent in New York City at around $3,200 a month. Households that fit into the following income ranges meet the affordability thresholds for housing eligibility.

AMI:2016
Household
Size
  30% of AMI50% of AMI60% of AMI80% AMI
Income:extremely lowvery lowtax credit maxLow
1$19,050$31,750$38,100$50,800
2$21,750$36,250$43,500$58,000
3$24,480$40,800$48,960$78,336
4$27,180$45,300$54,360$86,976

The East River Alliance neighborhood has $109,000 median income which means a substantial portion of its 45,000 households can smell the hot spectre of displacement caused by dropping this new mass into their community.  Being offered a lottery shot at long-term affordability is not a solution, it is a threat. It is not the buildings, it is the policy, stupid (love that line in all its forms).

If comments on this subject are of any interest the deep end stuff is here:

City Land.org website: http://goo.gl/iOCjR7 An excellent initial summary of the issues. The Community Group’s website: www.erfa.nyc The text and the argument for change. The City Planning website: http://maps.nyc.gov/census/ for a look at the area.

ASL Building Doomed: 100 Years or Less

Open Letter to the Art Students League Membership and The Resistance

As the proposal stands now the ASL is turned into an artifact.   It is being readied for placement in nothing more than photographs of where it once was. I have three ideas for addressing the problem faced by the membership of the ASL. Each one recognizes the status of the existing conditions.  Each has an outside chance of keeping ASL a part of the New York City artist community.  All three would be a slam dunk.

PART I

A concern of every institution of learning is to reflect effectively on its experience. This responsibility now remains posited firmly before the entire membership of the ASL. At present, to “not vote” or to vote “NO” has been predefined as an act of futility, if not the essence of an”absurd vote”. This has made the members of the ASL part of a radically changed society, but more importantly it is now required to fully assess the terror of this new condition, but look on the bright side. The coalitions of those who resist “the project” have an opportunity to establish new principles for adoption by a more innovative, possibly energized ASL board and membership. These principles arise from the three new realities embedded in the project and revealed in the ongoing evaluation of its proposals.

Without doubt the members of the ASL are of “the 99%” of citizens of this city and nation.  The ASL will therefore re-dedicate its aesthetic vision, art and talent to the recognition of social inequality and to the best of its ability, take the steps needed to move toward its eradication as a social pathology in this city and this nation.

  • Never has the seriousness of this issue been more clearly revealed than in the value of residential and commercial floor area defined by this project.   Over one third of all renters (2/3 of all residents) in NYC now pay over half of their income for rent.  Rent has increased by 8.6% from 2007 to 2011 while the cities median-income decreased by 6.8% in the same period. [1]  The income gap in Manhattan is comparable to areas of great social distress such as Sierra Leone.  None can present the beauty and dignity of being poor with greater clarity than the artist.  This truth must remain in the heart of ASL.

PART II

The second fact revealed by “the project” is equally disturbing to any rational observer not blinded by the ways gold can darken our future. The nature of membership in the ASL society has been revealed as a token, each participant a mere actor on a stage of their choosing, but damned by their will to lead.  In the face of this great change the value of the ASL society is strained by clouds of tradeoffs, exchanges and quid pro quo rationalizations.  If there is to be art, the artist must see the truth.  The leaders of the ASL have delivered nothing more than a sense of hopelessness and for this the members of the resistance should be saddened, yet resolved to move forward with new leadership.

  • The resistance to “the project” recognizes the capacity of great wealth to overwhelm the old and weak with its power.   With this knowledge the resistance to “the project” will pledge their unyielding energy to a new purpose.  The resistance to the project and membership of the ASL therefore call for the resignation of the board, not in distrust, but with common recognition that new leadership is the only chance the members might have to recover from the overwhelming sense of worthlessness bestowed upon the history and legacy of the ASL by the current board.

PART III

The third strategy has value in two ways, first, if heard by the developers and deemed reasonable, it offers an overwhelming motive to maximize the projects potential and therefore give pause to re-evaluate.   This may yield the time to assess the ability of “the resistance” to move the following proposal forward.   It offers the possibility to acquire a briefly postponed vote in order to obtain a serious review of a wholly new future for the ASL.

A innovative proposal has yet to be fully considered.  It is one that is equally controversial, but it suggests a vision for art in our society is now required to leap into the future as opposed to being “bought out” of it.   In reviewing the literature and the law, the only way to assure that the ASL will survive as an institution is to completely reinvent itself.

  • The resistance therefore offers to yield to “the project” all of the land held by the ASL in trade for a doubling of the equivalent floor area in perpetuity and in a manner that will meet the needs of artists for the next millennia.   Charge the developers with the responsibility to provide for the ASL a superior space, dedicated to the future of fairness and to the truth that art brings to life and society.  The ASL has the opportunity to weave its belief in this unique part of human energy into the mission of urban development.  The opportunity for a rebirth is the rarest of all gifts.  This is the true offer; it is not in the few coins now tossed on the table.

A personal note:

In reviewing the literature and the law it is highly unlikely this option could inject the ASL into the future, it is however one that must be reviewed.   The reasons for the “unlikely success” of this option is that half of the resistance to the proposal as it stands is resistance to change itself.  It is therefore extremely difficult to establish a majority view toward inclusive forms of change.

Nevertheless, it is highly important to retell and remind all who can hear, that the history of New York City is filled with the energy of institutions in buildings that are no longer here.  Far too many of them remain lost to a hope that parts of the human spirit cannot be crushed forever. Like MAS, the ASL should be an institution capable of recognizing its fate and therefore return to the challenge of art.


[1] See report released by New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, the “State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods 2012”

Here is a 2016 NYT Article on the chaos that since (here)

One Bryant Park

In thoughtful research reporting the requirement to sum up should become a responsibility of participation.  In Skyscrapers and the World of Tomorrow posted to Planetizen on September, 1 2011 by editors Jeff Jamawat, Kris Fortin, Tim Halbur and Victor Negrete, the questions sought to define the place for very big buildings, but the article ends by suggesting, the problem lies in a lack of a clear, agreed-upon vision for the future. Lots of luck with that one, but they give it a try.

According to the article, the content of this vision requires data that confirms the efficacy of the following steps.

  1. add full life cycle analysis (e.g. embodied energy) to LEED certification (McEeaney, Toberian)
  2. advance smart building technologies (Black, Leung, Appel)
  3. remove barriers to high (even ultra) density in the right places (Glaeser)
  4. prevent bottom-feeding architecture and beware the onset of tower blight (Kunstler)
  5. remove political gridlock (everybody)

Top of the line sellers provide the data needed for the first two steps thanks to high-end buyers of the technology (see video below).  Much of the data from these systems is proprietary and slows the rate of change, but at least it is pay-it-forward change. These investment institutions are strong and global.

The remaining three define the lack of clear vision problem less optimistically.  All of our democratic institutions face demands for NASA-style investment goals amidst fix-it-first philosophies.  How do we dissolve the contradictions of these two different approaches?

In our recent national history, we attacked a similar problem from the top-down and the grass-roots-up with top end ideas such as the Hreat Society and things like Headstart in a local precinct. Part of it included an investment in demonstration cities, later renamed Model Cities while another part vociferously disagreed with an America entering a permanent state of war.  All of this began a process that forever changed the vision of the urban world.

Today, envisioning the a city and our future is inseparable but this begs the question.  The vision that will remove the barriers, release unlimited wealth for growth, and break the gridlock is one of the city and a wilderness that is separate and inviolate. That is what is missing, that is what we need.

Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park from Cook+Fox Architects on Vimeo.

INWOOD: Just another zoning change…or is it?

The Re-Zoning Sherman Creek and Inwood

The rezoning of the Sherman Creek waterfront and Inwood’s core area began at the behest of the Economic Development Corporation in 2001. It ended shortly thereafter. Details are found on the EDC website here and the DCP website. The reasons for this particular initiative may be generalized to three political influences.

First, New York City’s bid for the 2012 Olympic games and beyond stimulated a massive search for “sites.” Failing this (even though it was a valiant effort), the work retained its second value as a strategy within an overall plan to fulfill the Bloomberg administration’s interest in the production of affordable housing, largely through tax expenditure investments and zoning changes.

Changing the zoning and adding in some bonus floor area minimizes the city’s expense and capital budget to the greatest degree possible—the Japanese call this “minkatsu” to “stimulate the private sector” as a partner.

Third and ultimately, local interest in wealth creation is satisfied. It is a small but influential group of investors with substantial landholdings in this area that need a boost in land value.

This entire effort will begin to play out in the Fall of 2007, and its effects might begin to show almost immediately, by the time it gets to the City Council 120 ULURP days later.

The area is predominately composed of immigrants of the Dominican Republic who are steeped in the family but still edgy poor.  The area is also dominated by a high-grade stock of art deco architecture perched for the most part on a hill with a median household income that dwarfs that of the residents just below. Washington Heights/Inwood community contains about 2800 properties, of which less than 4% have been identified as the landmarked property, of which 95% are in Historic Districts.

The Complications? North of the Creek

This community of the hill and the valley of Inwood is just north and east of the Inwood Hill “wilderness,” the last of the original growth of Manhattan and only known home of the Golden Eagle in New York City. In 1987, four large trees, known as Paulownia tomentosa, mysteriously vanished one night from Inwood Hill Park.

The Rare Paulownia tomentosa

This just the beginning. I found an image of one and have no idea if it was this rare type, but why else would they get jacked? Henry J. Stern was the commish then and grew up near the park to plant a grove of new Paulownias. I have to head back up there.

Highbridge Park Trails Grand Opening Festival May 19, 2007 mountain bikes, mountain bikers, trails Mountain Bikes … years of lobbying and meetings, and a year and a half of actual trail design and … Urban Trailblazers.

The New York City Mountain Bikers Meetup Group: See Map First Meeting: Sat, May 19, 2007, at 10:00 AM. In 2019 $200 Million in Investments to Enrich Inwood Community and Open Waterfront Access, but the zoning change is now listed as inactive (PDF). A sweetener, obviously. Please visit the New York City Economic Development Corporation website to view the most recent updates to this project.

Columbia’s Manhattanville

Regulatory Taking and Columbia University

Background

In June 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote upheld the use of eminent domain by the city of New London, CT. (Kelo vs. City of New London) by saying economic development was a public purpose thereby giving government the authority to acquire property, affirming decades of previous litigation on this issue. By the end of 2006 thirty-five states enacted eminent domain restrictions and related reform of regulatory takings

In that year, three of the four takings measures on state ballots were rejected. Most notable was the way Oregon voters repealed a takings initiative, Measure 37.  The defeat of California’s Prop 98 in 2007 signaled another setback for advocates of regulatory takings. Often dubbed Kelo-plus and Kelo 3rd Round most of the initiatives seek compensation for lost value due to land-use regulation. To date only one effort in Arizona stimulated by Howard Rich, a New York real estate investor and libertarian crusader has succeeded. But the bottom line is basic.  In most cases regulation can be proven to increase value. In February 2008 the New York State Bar Association’s task force completed its recommendations on the use of eminent domain. 

Community organizations throughout the country are raising money and filing proposed ballot initiatives with their state attorney general that prohibit use of eminent domain for transferring property from one private entity to another without added protections. The eminent domain debate in New York should examine its long history of condemnations for economic development.  In this light and from a strictly legal point of view there are three areas rich with potential litigation including the use of referendum.  These are the historical uses of eminent domain, the fairness of direct and indirect compensation, and targeting of low-income and minority populations.  Unlike other states, the one most likely to succeed in New York will involve added protections to residential and business tenants in reassessing just compensation issues.

Would pursuing the tenant protection component yield valuable community economic development objectives? Hard to say, but both sides might be more recognizable to the average research effort by viewing the work of Georgetown Law (here). The Scholarly Commons site helps to define hairline legal differences between “regulatory taking” and “eminent domain” in the proposed reforms of Oregon’s Measure 37 (here).  In this particular case, government becomes liable for attorney fees if the court award is greater than initial government offer.

Headline: “Citizens call for reform of the reform.” Timothy Sandefur, Author of Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America www.instituteforjustice.org

This site has links to www.cato.org, Howard Rich is a board member (Cato).  He likes how the term “property rights” strikes a cord among voters.  They also have a hot selling t-shirt that reads, blight me. It all seems exquisitely hypocritical, but why?

Given the historically poor performance of government in protecting individuals in the short term for vague long term benefits, the public’s opinion can easily be brought to define Kelo as a decision that betrays them — the small businessperson and working class residents, as well as, weaken legitimate efforts to erase racially imposed economic disparities. But, the dissent of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is probably best overall.

“Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner. . . . Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory. . . . The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”

Sandra Day O’Connor

How Does this “big picture” Policy Fit Manhattanville?
What does it do to the design of a place?

How about seeing INTERNATIONAL HOUSE as an example? Located at 500 Riverside Drive, 122nd Street) New York, NY 10027 www.ihouse-nyc.org. This is a stretch, but Columbia offers a very nice “extra-large” apartment with private bathroom at $12,090/month and other less luxurious accommodations to full-time graduate students. They are available only during the academic year; undergraduates are welcome in the summer.  Applications are required if stays of 30 days or more are intended. 

Columbia is extending housing privileges in order to acquire social capital in the tuition business. So, here is the thing, Barbara and Howard Rich are among many large real estate holders who are supporters of university sponsored Fulbright Scholarships and the programmed-education with housing market in New York City. Almost every university in New York City is a sponsor of this program as it brings in high paying clients (students of all ages) to the fold. Via: www.metrointl.org .  Surprise!  Manhattanville is a max hit zone for housing such as the above. The neighborhood is a Motel 6 and Columbia is the Ritz-Carlton.

Is there any other way to look at the this? There must be a way to realign the forces at work here.