Saturday, November 21, 2009

Critical moment for Chinatown

Upscale nightlife locations serving a non local patronage are popping up in the heart of Chinatown; local businesses, having trouble keeping up with rising real estate values, are giving way to chain stores; swank hotels are replacing residential and office space, displacing the local community.

Can the Chinatown Working Group come up with a plan to protect Chinatown from real estate speculation? Can the group forge a coherent vision for the future of Chinatown that doesn't repeat the failures of every other Chinatown in the U.S.?

The question may be answered on Monday when the business and development interests meet with the preservationists to figure out how to keep the economic investment engine that has driven Chinatown from bulldozing Chinatown. The future of the Chinatown Working Group process and of Chinatown itself depend on whether the conflicting needs of economy and of community and culture can be addressed.

Monday, Nov. 23, 7pm
Joint Working Team Meeting,
Zoning, Cultural/Historic Preservation, Economics & Transportation
Community Board 1, 49-51 Chambers St, Rm. 709

-- a joint meeting of the Economic & Transportation Teams with the Zoning & Cultural/Historic Preservation Teams to discuss their respective goals and vision and
to share their expertise in preparation for a town hall on CWG plans for Chinatown.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Seducing Shelly Silver

Following up on the this little comment exchange in the Lo-down's article about CB3's ongoing troubles planning for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area --the large tract of undeveloped land along the south side of Delancey Street that has been left vacant for forty years while Sheldon Silver, who lives nearby among his most loyal constituents, continues to block any development:

the way to Sheldon Silver's heart is through his loyal voters. Bring the Grand Street community to the table and you may be able to sway the old man's mind. He'll still be wary of building housing that will bring to his district new voters with no loyalty to him, but if you give him a leadership role in creating the housing in SPURA and spin him as the hero, he might feel ready to go for it.

The Grand Street residents want to add a little spice to their neighborhood, a little action. A movie house, a theater, a sports complex, a few cafes, a couple of bars and restaurants would add value to their real estate. Right now the place has all the charm of a sprawling assisted living facility. Find out what they want and see if you can create it for them and still get what you want too in the deal.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Books Through Bars Bingo

Books Through Bars (no, not local bars -- prison bars) is holding Bingo Night to pay its way: ABC No Rio (156 Rivington St), Friday Nov. 6th at 8pm.

Remember that a huge number of kids from this neighborhood were carted off to prison under Giuliani in the 90's to serve draconian prison sentences just when educational tuition assistance for prisoners was ended. Our prison system no longer even pretends to rehabilitate. Long-term incarceration under the Rockefeller Drug laws was just a convenient and politically expedient means to feed a dead upstate economy with prison construction and maintenance -- political patronage, while our neighbors' kids still languish in cells.

Read more about the state of education in prison and its importance from the Village Voice and the Correctional Association report here (scroll down the CA page) and press release here.

Here's Books Through Bars' announcement:

Books Through Bars is out of money, so we're playing cheap/fun/awesome Bingo to pay for postage and keep sending packages full of books to folks incarcerated in America's broken prison system.

It's free to get in, cheap ($1!) to play, and we'll have beer from the Brooklyn Brewery for sale. Plus you'll be playing for totally rad prizes from places like:

NY Adorned Tattoo Shop, Bluestockings Bookstore, Le Poisson Rouge, St. Marks Bookshop, NYC Hall of Science, the Angelika, IFC Film Center, the Beehive Collective and much more.

Dope beats from DJ No Flag, color commentary from the loudest nun you know - basically, you should be there:

Books Through Bars Bingo
ABC No Rio (156 Rivington St), Friday Nov. 6th at 8pm.

The big picture

The NY Times election analysis map shows that the Lower East Side still retains its distinctive spirit in a city elsewhere divided by race even more than by income.

The Times comments: "The mayor did well in high-income white areas of Manhattan and Queens, and also in election districts dominated by immigrants, like Flushing and Brighton Beach."

Add Chinatown to that list.

"But his vote fell sharply in black neighborhoods, especially southeast Queens, where the black middle class has been hard-hit by foreclosure."

Article:Source: Andrew Beveridge, Queens College sociology department

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Police relations and safety

Tagging on the last post, if the police cabaret units are, as one bar owner described them, "a bunch of goons going around harassing people" (quoted in the Lo-down), that's something the community board ought to address. But the way to address it is not to lower the priority of funding the enforcement of laws designed to protect the public from an industry that disturbs the local public. The officer who drops by to ask a bar to lower the speaker volume has no effect. As soon as he's gone, the volume ups. Fines are the only disincentive.

One commenter notes that having crowds (well, to be fair, she said "people") on the streets enhances the safety of the neighborhood. Good point. But there are, aren't there, safe neighborhoods without bars? My street has none and people seem to feel safe. The safest neighborhoods in the city have none (5th-MadAve-ParkAve; Shelly Silver's hood on Grand Street; suburban spreads in Queens and elegant enclaves of Brooklyn).

Clearly the question is how to have a safe neighborhood that's also interesting. I'm not convinced there's any answer to that. When this neighborhood was most interesting, it was, sadly, most unsafe. That was true when it was the home of punk rock, the graffiti generation, the beatniks, the German anarchists.

Surely the ideal answer to crime is not transforming your neighborhood into a bar destination, driving out all the old local businesses, drawing in an upscale crowd that raises rents and incentivizes landlord harassment of tenants. That's selling the farm to save -- what, the path to the front door?

I set aside the question of whether the streets are truly safer in the wild nightlife zone or only appear safer. Bob Arihood thinks the bar scene brings violence, and Bob should know: he documents it. There's a difference between an unsafe street and a scary street. Scary isn't necessarily unsafe. Unsafe might not look scary.

For me the bar question is about gentrification, rising real estate values, displacement; about creating a community that has some depth and interest beyond the mainstream blandness that Jeremiah burlesques so mordantly on his blog.

Bars have always had a place down here. But the scene was so different. And that's the real problem and the reason the re-election of Bloomberg is so unfortunate. Most of the young people I know here have no idea of what life was like in the LES thirty years ago. They can't imagine the fluidity of the spaces, the freedom, the intimacy of the neighborhood. All they can imagine is the danger, the craziness and the hardship. But it was also easy to live here. It was cheap. There were no roof alarms; missing your rent by a few months was no big deal. That's a life that has disappeared with the density of the new city.

It's too bad. Manhattan always had pockets of alterity. South of Washington Heights, there's only Chinatown left.

CB3 supports deregulation of bars

I don't blame bar owners for wanting the police to quit ticketing them. But how could the Community Board buy the argument that ticketing bars threatens the economic viability of the Lower East Side? How many bars have been closed by excessive ticketing? Any?

CB3's priorities support deregulating bars -- police enforcement was the only tool regulating bar excess. CB3's capitulation doesn't protect a needed business, it merely adds profit to an already profitable business of questionable value to the community and of known harm. Is that the CB's role -- to hand more money over to a business that isn't in trouble, at the expense of regulation and the well-being of residents?

No doubt the bars have raised real estate values in this neighborhood, both commercial and residential. In fact, the creation of destination nightlife has skyrocketed real estate values and undermined commercial and residential stability. What have bars done for our community but gentrify it into an overpriced, overhyped destination for transient children of wealth? Does that build community or destroy it?

The tax revenue generated by the bars does not come back to the neighborhood. It goes to the city. And the reason the bars are "the only industry we have down here" is because the bars have driven out everything else.

CB3 members, you have brains. Use them.

Missing Miriam

Every Sunday afternoon, returning from Chinatown, I pass through the southwest entrance of Tompkins Square Park and there, always and reliably, seated at the edge of the first row of benches, often alone but often accompanied by Phil Van Aver, another long-time resident from around the corner, would be Miriam Friedlander, every Sunday afternoon. She was slight and a bit frail but seemed happy. I'd join them for a while, shooting the breeze about politics in the present and the past, on which she always had much to say and much worth listening to. And always radical, surprisingly radical.

Her seat is now unclaimed though not unoccupied. Each week another face appears there, young or old, no doubt unaware whose seat it was, or that it was anyone's, or that someone passing by might expect to see anyone there but themselves. As if she'd never been there at all.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A critical moment for the city

A glimpse at Bloomberg's New York -- sent to me by a worried tenant who is currently being harassed by her landlord -- tells me what the future holds when the economy revives:

2005 or 2010?

The harassment of tenants by landlords is widespread in New York. It is encouraged by city agencies under the mayor's direct control. The Department of Buildings no longer enforces its own regulations, the city does not collect DoB fines; meawhile Bloomberg continues to defund it. Without funding or the ability to levy and collect fines, the DoB is helpless to prevent developers from abusing tenants.

With no city agency standing in the way of developers and landlords, harassment of tenants has become easier and more frequent. When the economy was booming, harassment was rampant. It is the mayor's goal to return to those golden days of development evictions. That's what he means by 'reviving the local economy.'

New York is all about real estate speculation. If you want to know who this mayor is and what he's all about, look at the DoB, the department of development oversight. It is a bankrupted agency. It bears the true profile of our mayor.

Tenants have been evicted and are in the process of being evicted on my block through landlord harassment encouraged by the failure of the DoB. I hear similar stories from all over the city. I'm sure you have too. I can think of no better reason to vote on Tuesday.

Cartoon from