Friday, May 30, 2008

Prostitution of our local press

Trying to excuse the community board from any responsibility for Chinatown's late involvement in the rezoning, CB3 Chair David McWater said he spent a $100,000 grant on outreach to Chinatown ("Chinatown rezoning call keeps resounding at C.B. 3" The Villager, May 7).

The article doesn't mention that none of this money was spent on rezoning information. I obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Law.

The Villager editorial that week claims, as has CB chair David McWater, that Chinatown is difficult to rezone because it lies in three districts and that's why the CB didn't include Chinatown in this plan.

But the portion in CB2 is already protected by the Little Italy Special District. So Chinatown can be successfully zoned piecemeal. The current plan even includes a few blocks of it. So the division among three districts can't be the reason that the rest of Chinatown was left out.

The Villager editorial claims, as has CB chair David McWater, that every rezoning must have a vulnerable periphery. That's factually inaccurate: the state courts, projects and Little Italy Special District surrounding Chinatown are not vulnerable to overdevelopment.

I guess CB Chair David McWater is writing the Villager's editorials now. If the Villager were an independent press, it would have fact-checked McWater's claims before printing them as fact. This is not the first time it has happened.

When did our media become the propaganda arm of government? Doesn't free press mean freedom from government intervention so that the press can criticize government? Government propagandizes its own policies itself, why do we need a press that licks its spittle?

" Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, said the national news media neglected their watchdog role in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, calling reporters "complicit enablers" of the Bush administration's push for war."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fending off racism

The critics of the rezoning gained one victory in all this process. The Chrystie Street alternative is dead. Remember CB3 proposed that the greatest height and bulk be placed on Chrystie Street -- up to 150 feet (reduced to 145' by DCP)?

It wasn't until ethnic Chinese showed up en masse, calling the plan racist, that this alternative, which placed the greatest density of development right in Chinatown, disappeared. It disappeared so completely and so silently that board members spoke in favor of the "11 points" without even realizing that one of those points -- the one about Chrystie Street -- wasn't there anymore. It disappeared because the community appeared and expressed its opposition to overdevelopment and gentrification, and it disappeared silently because, in the light of day, it looked too much like racism.

But where did the Chrystie Street actually alternative come from? According to the Task Force chair, it was suggested by the Rebuild Chinatown Initiative -- an ethnic Chinese development group that purports to represent the Chinese community and will no doubt be called to participate in CB3's rezoning of Chinatown.

Now you know why I am worried about the future.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Zoning Approved

Scroll down for details of the resolution. First enthusiasm:

Last night's Community Board meeting was the most engaging, most substantive, by far the most exciting, intelligent, best full community board meeting I've seen in years -- maybe ever. The community on all sides of the rezoning came out to voice their views, often passionately, fiercely; argued them, challenged each other, fought and even yelled, but always over the issues, always over content.

The community in attendance -- both pro and con -- presented themselves last night as involved and committed to a depth that was inspiring. It was a heated, angry evening, it was confrontational, but it was a meeting -- all sides met, all views were argued, all views were questioned, all views were disparaged, all views were defended: all views were heard.

The highlights: Damaris Reyes' eloquent defense of the rezoning plan; Josephine Lee's lucid presentation of its shortcomings to a crowd of antagonistic questions. And these were just the best of the best. There were many more.

And low moments too -- a few misunderstandings, mistaken assumptions -- hardly worth mention. On the whole it was a truly remarkable meeting, in every way befitting such a climactic of moment, such a turning point, for our neighborhood.

It was the first time the whole and complex and far-reaching and weighty significance of this rezoning was presented in all its aspects by all its stakeholders.

(Almost all: developers remain silent.)

The community board members themselves broadly and vigorously joined in the debate. Not just the usual suspects either. The long-taciturn got up and stole the place of the loud-mouthed last night. And tempers flew -- oooooh yes! and often! -- yet against this continually eruptive background, the issues remained in the fore; it was all about the issues and even the minute details of the issues. It was content that drew anger last night, not tactics; it was truth on all sides that was debated, not mere representations.

The community board, btw, voted to approve the rezoning. That was a foregone conclusion, not news. Their approval resolution includes the following modifications some of which the City Planning Commission may see fit to adopt and all of which Rosie Mendez will bring to City Council for approval in the final package (these are my paraphrases, not their wording):
The final rezoning legislative package should

1. prevent non commercial storefronts from being turned to commercial use

2. specifically restrict non bar/restaurant commercial storefronts from being turned to bar/restaurant use

3. restrict the demolition, enlargement or alteration of residential buildings

4. require affordable housing in any construction on all the wide avenues in the zoning area

5. require that 30% of all construction in the area be affordable at three levels: 30% of the affordable housing should be available only to people earning low incomes, 50% lower moderate , 20% upper moderate.

6. place 75' height caps on all narrow streets, including those south of Houston

7. require energy efficiency for all tax-abated construction

8. create a legal defense fund to defend threatened tenants

9. turn the Eldridge and Forsyth designation from commercial to residential.

In addition, the CB resolution asks the city to review the zoning of excluded areas to "1) prevent overdevelopment, speculation and displacement, 2) encourage affordable housing and 3) preserve the building character in those areas."

I'd just point out that under any 80-20 program, item (2), construed as the construction of new affordable units, is incompatible with (1) -- if affordable housing can be constructed only with the inclusion of four times as many luxury units, then affordable housing entails "overdevelopment, speculation and displacement." It's a tough one. It's the tough one.

My suggestion: for thriving, non-depressed low-income neighborhoods, off-site affordable housing is preferable to on-site. Build affordable housing in the community and let developers take their market-rate housing far away to already gentrified neighborhoods.

If the low-income community is commercially thriving, bringing outside money and supplying local jobs, there is no danger of depressing the neighborhood with exclusively affordable housing. Mixed housing, under such conditions, will only raise real estate values causing gentrification, speculation and displacement. The ideal of mixed housing, though politically correct as a theoretical principle, should be carefully rethought from specific context to specific context and not applied with too broad a brush.

Conflict of interest

Tonight the Community Board will approve a rezoning package regardless how broad or loud the opposition.

It concerns me that organizations and individuals on the Task Force will directly benefit from its provisions. Now, those organizations are wonderful, we are lucky to have them in our neighborhood, I support them and I think the community should support them, but I think they cannot be objective in their view of a rezoning package that benefits their institutional projects and directives, regardless how altruistic and beneficial those projects are.

After this process is complete, the Task Force chair plans to bring together a panel for Chinatown. The panel will most likely consist of bank-funded organizations that bring development under the guise of "affordable" housing programs that are 80% market-rate and 100% unaffordable to the average resident of Chinatown. They will devise a plan for Chinatown that suits their institutional interests, while the residents of Chinatown will have no voice. It will be catastrophic for Chinatown and Chinatown's residents.

At the last full board meeting, the question was raised several times why Chinatown residents didn't get involved with the rezoning earlier. Didn't they know about it? The CB Chair stated that he had spent a $100,000 grant on outreach to Chinatown. What he failed to mention was that none of that money was spent on information about the rezoning.

These are some of the reasons I am skeptical of current community board leadership.

But the real culprit in the neglect of Chinatown is Councilmember Alan Gerson. Where Margarita Lopez came up with seed money from the Council for a rezoning of her district, the East Village, Alan Gerson came up with nothing for his district, Chinatown. He didn't even raise the issue of rezoning Chinatown.

Community Board members are unelected and unpaid. But Gerson is elected and paid to represent his constituency. Chinatown's precarious situation is his fault and his responsibility. Where is he? Where? What will he get for Chinatown? And will he involve the Chinatown residents in the process?

Monday, May 26, 2008

A message of gratitude

As reward for the Committee to Save St. Brigid's dogged delaying through the courts the demolition of a church which, but for their unwavering fight, would have been lost long ago, comes a gift as rare as it is welcome: quietly, a citizen put money to good and lasting use. Loisaida is indebted to both graceful donor and perseverant Committee.

St. Brigid's anchors the history of Tompkins Square, along with the former Children's Aid Society, later housing a Hebrew schul, that Calvert Vaux built across the street from the church. The deep history of religious persecution in New York's past rests in memoriam between these two.

They were built in the roils of intense anti-Catholicism, when New York politics bitterly divided over the power of unwashed Irish Catholic labor expressed through Tammany Hall, and patrician Protestants like Frederick Law Olmstead, his architect and designer Calvert Vaux and his best friend, Charles Loring Brace, minister and founder of the Children's Aid Society.

The Society, a Protestant charity, opened its buildings facing Catholic churches to lure the children of desperate Irish immigrants, sending them out west by the train-full to be taken into "good Christian homes" -- and work the farms unpaid -- far from their Catholic roots. It was a marriage of economic and social convenience: Midwestern Protestants in non-slave states needed cheap labor; New York had an untapped wealth of Catholic children to reform. Another Protestant Brace friend, the immensely popular author Horatio Alger, justified in his stories the role of philanthropy in poor boys' exchange of rags for "riches." No one thought it harm.

Brace advocated 'placing out' the children as the sole way to save them from the dangerous influence of life in the slums of the city, including the "spiritual lifelessness of Romanism." The peculiar forerunner of foster care, the "Orphan Trains," inconceivable today, now hide in the shadows of history; an incredible story, but true:

or to witness in brick, walk up to the Mott Street entrance of the old St. Patrick's Cathedral and turn around: you'll see looming above you another dark red Vaux&Brace Children's Aid Society, uncannily like the one overlooking St. Brigid's.

Today we ship our unwashed youth to the upstate prison economy, a shorter journey for a longer term. It's a novel device to serve that very same marriage of economic and social convenience. In harsh, intolerant philanthropy's place we now provide generously stifling punishment. But we have progressed: rather than pretend to be good or kind, we pretend merely to be just.

There is, then, a story to be learnt from these buildings, from their history. They speak to us of their past; they conceal a message for our present.

And there's something, too, to be gained: still standing, immigrant working-class St. Brigid's celebrates a triumph of steadfastness in adversity, then as today, facing the park, a-shoulder to its gloomy, Victorian rival gazing fixedly in its direction. Long live St. Brigid's!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

St. Brigid's saved!!

You've all heard that St. Brigid's has been saved by an anonymous donor.

I have only two happy words:


Someone has put money to good and lasting use. As rare as welcome.

We are all endebted to the Committee to save St. Brigid's, without whose perseverant fight in the courts the church would have been demolished years ago.

Historic designation for the EV, the Bowery and Chinatown?

I have recently become involved in an effort to create a historic district of the East Village, where many smaller buildings remain at risk of redevelopment or expansion under the rezoning. An East Village Historic District will slow the pace of gentrification and displacement by restricting or preventing such development.

This project requires surveying all the buildings in the entire neighborhood, a task every minute of which I will enjoy and in which I will welcome your company. I will be writing more about it soon.

I'm also hoping groups in the Bowery and Chinatown, areas most in need of protection from development, will take an interest in historic districting. If you know any groups or contacts there that might support such an effort, drop me a line!

Meanwhile, I am moved to thank the many readers who responded so sympathetically to my last post. There is a community here! Well, I may have tired of fights, but I haven't tired of work.

LES designated "most endangered" by National Trust

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has designated the Lower East Side as one of the nation's "most endangered historic places." You can read more and see a video here

and learn how to help here:

Many of us had been wondering why there had been news about LES Historic District proposal since the community board had approved it. Well, now we know. The sponsors of the proposal -- that means primarily the Tenement Museum -- was gathering national support for it. With this National Trust designation in hand, the proposal will be a shoe-in at the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Three years ago I got the idea that it might be possible to stave off the loss of community by distributing information, including full and detailed analysis of policies governing what's happening here. That was LES Residents for Responsible Development, dedicated to anti-displacement in Loisaida.

I had hoped to measure the success of lesrrd by the participation of the community, but that hasn't happened. Instead, I succeeded in antagonizing a handful of community board members.

I have no idea whether those CB policy-makers mean well or ill -- I cannot see into their hearts. I know only that they mistook criticism for subversion to such an extent that one of them wrote that I "had to be neutralized" merely for raising just the kinds of questions that everyone should ask of their policy-makers. Talk about overreacting.

Aside from the unpleasantness of being a lone independent voice, being lied to and being lied about, there's just nothing left of the marginal, alternative, burnt-out, sparsely populated, multi-ethnic community I was drawn to thirty years ago. The block I live on, and the blocks around it, are solidly, comfortably, prosperously middle-class now. I guess that's great for the middle-class, but it's not what I moved here for thirty years ago -- it's what I moved here to get away from.

I'm not whining. Don't get me wrong. There are lots of fine, intelligent, charming middle-class people. And even though the transient NYU population has raised real estate values and rents and rent ceilings and undermined most of the affordable and regulated housing here, the students themselves are bright, lively, serious and decent on the whole. And the neighborhood continues to attract an interesting couple here and there. I am not so pleased with those whom Jeremiah Moss (of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York blog, see the blogroll) calls "yunnies" -- young urban narcissists. If they are interesting, they've cleverly succeeded in hiding it.

But Loisaida is gone. A few years ago a Latino friend from the old days reappeared in Tompkins Square Park having just finished a jail sentence for drug possession -- a strong, smart, optimistic, independent, genuine stand-up kind of guy whose most serious crime was not being white and being something of a street person. Years ago, street life was far more communal than it is now and homelessness was a more fluid state -- there were many abandoned apartments, people often floated from space to space, lived among friends, moved from situation to situation untroubled by absentee slumlords who didn't know to care or care to know.

My friend, now, was visibly ill with hepatitis C. The state had given him a fully subsidized apartment somewhere in Brooklyn. He'd left it to be homeless here in the park, despite his illness.

I asked why. He explained that this is a mixed neighborhood; it always was a mixed neighborhood. He didn't want to live in a ghetto. He jonesed for the mix.

Well, some folks like the mix, others like the ghetto, white, black, yellow or brown. There's value in each. A city can have them all. A city should have them all.

Loisaida had the mix, but it's being snowed under and there's no stopping the storm.

The contentious town hall

As I'm sure you've heard, the EV/LES Rezoning Town Hall began with a protest of two hundred or so residents.

Notably absent were the two City Council members who will vote on this plan. That means that they do not support the protesting residents' demands and were avoiding the meeting so as not to find themselves in a difficult situation. Most likely they will soon issue statements in strong support of rezoning the Bowery and Chinatown -- in a separate plan.

Unfortunately, a separate plan will take years to complete and will not be implemented without the inclusion of developer interests unless the council members get a commitment now from DCP to protect Chinatown and the Bowery. DCP is seeking approval now for its plan. The approval process is the last moment for leverage over DCP. Unless that leverage is applied, statements of strong support are meaningless.

The Town Hall was described to me as "a dog and pony show." Not ten thousand angry residents could change one detail of this plan: the city wants it; the community board originated it. DCP is not interested in what protesters have to say, and community board members, less seasoned in their political approach, would like to respond punitively towards their opposition (the community), and will, unless the experienced voices of reason there hold sway.

The Borough President, who ran on community board reform, is committed to pretending that he has reformed his community boards to perfection, so he will support whatever the CB decides. That's politics.

The community board and Councilmember Alan Gerson have this one chance to get a commitment from DCP for the Bowery and Chinatown. The responsibility (especially now that the CB is "deeply offended" -- how dare the community express its needs at a community meeting when they should be listening to DCP promote its plan!) mostly rests with Gerson. The City Council gets the final vote and the areas most threatened by development and most vulnerable to it are in his district.

If you were expecting a detailed report on the Town Hall, sorry to disappoint. Unable to attend except for the first two or three minutes, I can't offer much beyond the second-hand. Having had my say here and at Task Force meetings over the last three years, and knowing that nothing I do will change the outcome of this process, I felt my presence would make not the least difference.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Full disclosure and farewell

LESRRD is not a member of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown/LES and they do not wish me to speak for them.

The views represented on this blog are mine, not theirs or anyone else's.

I do strongly support their goals and I have given them as much information as I have.

Their tactics are not for me to judge. They've got to conduct their own struggles their own way.

If you are looking for an account of Monday's contentious Town Hall meeting on the rezoning, I am afraid I can only supply second-hand accounts. Although I was able to watch the audience assemble, I had to leave before the meeting began. In any case, I have had my say here and in e-mailed posts.

The absence of testimony from local electeds -- except for the State Senator, but the Senate doesn't vote on the plan -- is bad news for Chinatown and the Bowery. It means that they don't intend to use the approval process to get a commitment from DCP to save Chinatown and the Bowery, and so they are hiding from the Coalition's disapprobation.

Btw, my relationship with Bowery Alliance of Neighbors is ambiguous. They consider me a member because I attend their meetings, have helped out and even enunciated their position on the radio. I consider myself a close friend of the group, a helper, but not a member. After all, I live on 11th between B&C, far from the Bowery. I support their goals, too, but I intend to turn my attention to other means than community activism, for which I have neither taste nor talent.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The urgency of the Bowery and Chinatown

In just the last three years we've seen seven (7) huge projects emerge on the Bowery:
Cooper Union's new engineering building
Cooper Square Hotel
Atlantic's 37 E 4th
Bowery Hotel
Scarano E 3rd
New Museum
hotel at Hester.

That's over two giants each year. That's urgent.

Compare the residential East Village from 2nd Avenue to Avenue D. In the last 40 years only two tall buildings, both 15 stories:
New Theater building, 240 E 10
NY Law Dorm, 81 E 3
and nothing tall at all in the last eight years.

Could it be that there is no urgency to rezoning the East Village? Why then won't our "leaders" use their leverage to get protection for the C6-1 zones (Bowery and Chinatown) that need it?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

the city's design for Community District 3

Over the last six years of construction boom in New York no tall towers have been built in the East Village area about to be rezoned (2nd Avenue to Avenue D). None. Lots of low construction, nothing out-of-scale.

That's a sure sign that our current R7-2 zoning works.

The rezoning plan does NOT INCLUDE 3RD AVENUE AND THE BOWERY where the tall towers are being built (C6-1 zones)!

The areas that most need rezoning are the zones that the developers are just beginning to look at: Bowery and Chinatown (C6-1 zones). These areas are excluded from the rezoning. The hotel boom from C6-1 Suffolk to Allan appears to be exhausted: the air rights are probably all eaten up; the rezoning will be too late. So the city's rezoning plan includes all the areas that do NOT need rezoning and excludes all the areas that need rezoning! The city's design is plain as day.

Our current R7-2 zoning works -- even without height caps -- for a variety of reasons: 1) the allowable FAR is so low that there aren't enough air rights to build with; 2) tall structures require multiple lots and plaza space under current zoning; 3) developers are not interested in building the large community facilities which the zoning allows. It's not as simple as height caps.

Years ago this rezoning looked like a great way to prevent Gregg Singer from building a skyscraper on the former Charas building next to Christadora House. No one here wants to see a skyscraper there, not just the people on that block or in Christadora House. But the building has already been landmarked, thanks to EVCC, and preventing one building is not an ideal reason to rezone an entire neighborhood. It has resulted in tunnel vision: focusing within the EV, we've overlooked the areas most at risk.

This rezoning is a done deal. You don't need to support it -- it will happen regardless what anyone says at this Town Hall. The political influences here want it, and the city wants it. The only good that can come of it now is using the approval process to get the city to commit to saving the areas that really need rezoning, Chinatown and the Bowery, and getting a higher ratio of affordable housing.

We have leverage over DCP now. Do some good with this rezoning: use the approval process to get a deal for Chinatown and the Bowery. Unless we get a commitment now when we have leverage, the city will never support a protective rezoning of those neighborhoods. Can we think ahead for once?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

CB3's excuses for excluding Chinatown and the Bowery from the rezoning

The EV/LES rezoning, by prohibiting huge hotels in the protected area, will push hotel development into the Bowery and Chinatown. Community Board 3 has tried to defend the exclusion with a series of excuses:

1) 'Protecting the EV/LES does not threaten to push development into the unprotected Bowery and Chinatown.'

Yes it does. We saw it in Williamsburg.
As soon as their rezoning was implemented, developments sprang up just outside the periphery of the rezoning. Hotels are already appearing along the Bowery. This selective rezoning will accelerate a trend we can already see.

2) 'Wherever the boundary of a rezoning is drawn, there will be a vulnerable periphery, so a line must be drawn somewhere.'

False. The Bowery/Chinatown C6 zones of Community District 3 have clear, undevelopable boundaries:
Little Italy to the west of the Bowery is protected by a special zoning district. The Tombs and huge court houses of Foley Square to the west of Chinatown are not residential and in no danger of development. Neither are the housing projects / residential zones by the river.

3) 'Chinatown lies partly in CB2. CB3 couldn't rezone just a part of Chinatown.'

CB3 itself proved this false. Chrystie Street is a part of Chinatown and CB3 did include Chrystie Street in their plan. If the city can rezone this one street of Chinatown, then it can rezone Baxter to Essex/East Broadway as well.

'DCP won't zone single sides of streets and only the east side of the Bowery lies in CB3.'

DCP rezones single sides of streets all the time. In fact, they protectively rezoned the west side of Bowery in CB2. Why not the east side in CB3?

5) 'Chinatown was left out because the rezoning would have been too large with Chinatown included.'

a) this rezoning is not the largest rezoning DCP has undertaken, and
b) the board never even considered rezoning Chinatown when they were devising this plan.

I expect rank and file community board members to question the validity and motive of these excuses and reject them.

We know the city wants to displace low-income communities from Manhattan. The community board, representing the community, is charged with protecting those communities. There's leverage now, while DCP seeks approval for its plan.

I do not speak for the people of Chinatown or for anyone but myself in this community. Others can speak for themselves. If you want to hear what others think of the rezoning, go to the Town Hall. I can't attend that night, so I'm giving you my two cents here.

Monday, May 12, 6:30pm,
Public School 20,
166 Essex Street
(btwn Houston & Stanton)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Race and rezoning

The area protected by this EV/LES rezoning is overwhelmingly white. The areas excluded from the rezoning are overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese or Latino. Makes you wonder.

Every area adjacent to those ethnic Chinese and Latino neighborhoods is getting the rezoning's largest luxury bulk (building size) allowances -- Avenue D, Pitt Street and Chrystie Street -- inviting development and facing those communities with gentrification. Still wondering?

The Department of City Planning's intent is clear: the ethnic cleansing of Manhattan.

It's an ugly accusation. But we all know it's true.

Monday, May 12, 6:30pm,
Public School 20,
166 Essex Street
(btwn Houston & Stanton)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Where is Alan Gerson?

About five years ago, our former councilmember Margarita Lopez got $50,000 earmarked for a rezoning of the East Village. That rezoning is about to be made a reality.

Meanwhile, we've seen the Bowery and Chinatown become targets of luxury hotel development. But Alan Gerson has not come through with a penny or a plan.

Not even an idea to save these neighborhoods in his district.

To the members of Community Board 3 and Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Rosie Mendez,

The Community Board and Councilmembers Gerson and Mendez have a unique moment of leverage with DCP.

DCP is committed to pushing through this rezoning that they've spent millions on already. Now is the only moment when CB3 can negotiate protection for Chinatown and the Bowery.

Currently, CB3 wants to work on a separate community-based plan for Chinatown. That plan will take years and has no guarantee of ever being implemented since there will probably never again be such leverage as exists right now while DCP seeks approval for its plan.

This one is a no-brainer. Now is the time to demand that the EIS be expanded to include Chinatown and the Bowery. This is the last moment DCP can be cornered into a commitment of any kind. This is the last moment for demand. After this, no leverage: no negotiation; it's all over.

Don't throw this game. Play hardball. You know how. You have nothing to lose, and you stand to gain a meaningful commitment to the protection of the C6 zones from luxury hotel development.

Ethnic Cleansing of Chinatown

If this rezoning plan is approved as is, Chinatown will be defenseless against hotel development.

The plan's selectivity is disastrous. By protecting the old Jewish LES (Forsyth to Pitt) from over-development it pushes developers into the nearest vulnerable neighborhood: the Bowery and Chinatown.

We saw this in Williamsburg. As soon as their rezoning was implemented, developments sprang up just outside the periphery of the rezoning. Well, hotels are already appearing along the Bowery. This rezoning will accelerate a trend we can already see.

Community Board 3 has tried to defend this selectivity by claiming that wherever the boundary of a rezoning is drawn, there will be a vulnerable periphery, so a line must be drawn somewhere.

Not true. The Bowery/Chinatown C6 zones of Community District 3 have undevelopable boundaries:

Little Italy to the west of the Bowery is protected by a special zoning district. The Tombs and huge court houses of Foley Square to the west of Chinatown are not residential and in no danger of development. Neither are the housing projects and residential zones by the river.

The board members are grasping at straws, knowing full well that they made an error by not considering Chinatown, an error that has turned into a disaster.

The framers and supporters of this rezoning are responsible for the unmistakable consequence of this plan: the ethnic cleansing of Chinatown. Almost every inch of Chinatown has been excluded from this plan and left unprotected.

Ethnic Chinese are the largest demographic in Community District 3. Why didn't the community board factor them into their plan and consider the consequences for Chinatown? We know the city wants to displace low-income communities from Manhattan. The community board, representing the community, is supposed to protect those communities.

And Councilmember Gerson's indolence is unfathomable. Chinatown is in his district.

Even more damning, for the one street that was included, Chrystie Street, the community board has asked for more residential bulk than the DCP plan itself, claiming that "the Chinese don't mind density" and "want development."

80% of that dense development will be luxury housing. In case the picture is not clear: the community board was speaking to Chinatown organizations involved with banks and developers, not to Chinatown residents.

The councilmember's and CB3's lack of foresight, their myopic inability to see the largest demographic within their districts, echoes America's long and deep Sinophobia:

until 1965 Chinese were prohibited from becoming U.S. citizens and until 1963, Chinese were not even allowed into the country by the Chinese Exclusion Act and Scott Law. There was even a Page Law (1875) prohibiting Chinese women from entering, a law specifically designed, false pretexts aside, to end the settling of Chinese families, to prevent a permanent population, encourage Chinese to return to China and to ensure that Chinese male labor would be transient -- available only as needed to meet market demand.

Enforced transience: the consequences of this rezoning's 'Chinese exclusion' are clear and familiar.

The area included in the plan has already been gentrified; it is largely upscale and largely white. It will be protected by the plan, although it's not clear that there's much need for protection: tall towers are not being built in the EV, and the air rights may already have been exhausted in the old Jewish LES where the hotels are already built.

Our immediate priority therefore must be the areas excluded from the rezoning plan. The Community Board and elected officials' response to this plan must be a strategic demand that the areas excluded, especially the C6 zones, be included, even at the expense of temporarily delaying implementation of the plan.

DCP, which is dedicated to following through with a rezoning of the neighborhood, must be coerced into protecting the excluded C6 zones, one way or another. A firm demand that the EIS be expanded to include the C6 zones is the only strategy that can save Chinatown. I don't see any other negotiating position from which to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Chinatown.

City Planning has been displacing communities in the name of development and "affordable housing" that is unaffordable to most people in those neighborhoods. Harlem, Willamsburg and Greenpoint are the most prominent examples. There is no question that this administration's urban planning is racially and ethnically discriminatory. In the case of Chinatown, City Planning is cleverly washing its hands -- rather than propose a plan that would decimate Chinatown, the city is going to allow market-rate developers to do the dirty work by themselves.

We mustn't help them. Oppose the plan now, while we have leverage on City Planning.

By the way, I do not speak for the people of Chinatown. They can speak for themselves. I speak for myself and what I see.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

We met with City Planning

Friends and neighbors,

We met with City Planning:

a) They want hotels to line the Bowery and they want to develop Chinatown.
b) They are completely, stubbornly and adamantly dedicated to the EV/LES rezoning.

(a) is bad, but (b) presents an opportunity for our community and office holders to play hardball. Now is the moment to leverage (b) against (a). Alan Gerson has stated he will oppose the plan unless it is improved. That's the right strategy.

Now is the moment to demand that Chinatown and the Bowery be included in the plan. There will be no protection for Chinatown and the Bowery unless this moment is seized. Even if Chinatown and the Bowery don't get into the plan, only the firm demand that they be included will yield any progress towards a deal to protect Chinatown.

The community and office holders must unite behind this strategy, otherwise there will be no Bowery and no Chinatown sooner than you think. Gentrification is a self-propelling process. Once a couple of hotels go up in a neighborhood, upscale bars and clubs displace local business, real estate value rises, landlords harass, empty apartments, warehouse them and then sell to developers. There is no road back.

Some on the Community Board have urged us to accept the plan without dissent or question, for fear that DCP would abandon the rezoning. This was alarmist fear then and is absurd now that the city has spent millions on the Environmental Impact Statement (yes, millions -- these are hugely expensive studies) and is even more committed than ever. Frightened acceptance is completely unnecessary.

Let me repeat that for those who have been listening to the alarmist fear mongers:

Frightened acceptance is completely unnecessary because the city is completely committed to carrying this rezoning forward.

Our community board members must set aside the divisions and squabbles of the past, hear the people of Chinatown and the Bowery, shed the mode of desperate fear and step up to the plate. Let's not see the community board throw the game to DCP. Let's watch the community board play hardball for the people of Bowery & Chinatown.

Monday, May 12, 6:30pm,
Public School 20,
166 Essex Street
(btwn Houston & Stanton)

Upcoming events

Friday, May 9, 4:30pm, 25 Beaver St
MARCH TO SAVE OUR HEALTH CARE and oppose GHI-HIP from converting to a for-profit company, jeopardizing the healthcare of 4 million policy holders, including 500,000 NYC workers (93% of the workforce) & retirees. Mainstream politicians & union leaders support the change, hoping to benefit from the nearly $3 billion windfall profits of such a sale. (4/5 to Bowling Green, J/M/Z to Broad St, R/W to Whitehall St,1 to Rector St, 2/3 to Wall St, A/C to B'way-Nassau).

Monday, May 12, 6:30pm, Public School 20, 166 Essex Street (btwn Houston & Stanton)

Last chance for direct community input on the rezoning of the EV/LES.

The community board has not yet withdrawn support for out-of-scale development on Chrystie Street. 80% (or more) of that development will be luxury.

DCP has refused to protect the Bowery and Chinatown.

Tell DCP not to develop Chinatown into another luxury hotel district.

Join us to say "no" to overdevelopment in the LES.

Review the plans here:


Wednesday, May 28th, 6:30pm, 20 Washington Square North
Community Board 2 public hearing on NYU's plan to demolish the Provincetown Playhouse, one of NYC's great and most historic theaters.