in Manhattan, Places

Midtown Eastside

Aerial of 432 Park Avenue

Manhattan is a “playground” for wealthy people; public policy is interested in keeping enough households to ensure the 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  What do machines need?  People to maintain them.

In October 2012, Aaron Betsky of Architect thought it oozed privilege and wealth. Still, it did so with “elegance, borne out of its simplicity as much as its height, that makes 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 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 the density is not the problem, what is?

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. Still, the issue is less about zoning than 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). 432 Park Avenue is not pictured.  It is on 57th Street and three blocks to the east (Third, Lexington, and Park). On 57th Street between Park and Madison, the building’s Park Avenue address is a side story on corruption.  You out there, any ideas?

Current Zoning

The Right Questions are not about Zoning and Height

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. Is it just because of the condo loophole?

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 to produce 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 nearby. In addition, 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.

  30% of AMI50% of AMI60% of AMI80% AMI
Income:extremely lowvery lowtax credit maxLow

The East River Alliance neighborhood has a $109,000 median income, which means a substantial portion of its 45,000 households can smell the hot specter 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 (I love that line in all its forms).

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

City website: An excellent initial summary of the issues. The Community Group’s website: The text and the argument for change. The City Planning website: for a look at the area.

Write a Comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.