NEWS FROM THE HUMAN-SCALE CITY: FIRST ROUND-UP FOR 2017!

In this week’s Round-up of Human-scale News Feb. 9, 2017:

 

  • Signs from recent protests at City Hall
  • A few announcements about Human-Scale NYC
  • New York’s Real Estate Industry LOVES Trump (but you knew that)
  • Activism for New Yorkers in the Age of Trump:  an op-ed
  • Why Does De Blasio want to turn Midtown into Dubai?
  • De Blasio Faces Not One but Two Grand Juries?
  • Eyesores of the Week
  • Challenging the City’s demographic projections
  • Best Signs from the Women’s March
  • Quote (and Understatement) of the Week
  • Next Week’s Stories – a preview

 


 

Signs from Recent Protests at City Hall

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A Few Announcements

The steering committee for New Yorkers for a Human-scale City has a few announcements:

  • We have created a new non-profit, “The Alliance for a Human-scale City” which will seek 501(c)4 tax-exempt status with the IRS.  We will report next week with full details.
  • The mission of the new organization is to promote livability of the built environment, democratic control of neighborhoods, and human-scale urbanism by means of public education, policy debate, and advocacy.
  • Thanks to you, generous friends and allies, we have raised enough money to hire two part-time interns.  Meet Mike Van Itallie and Sarah Reddan. Their time is split between Human-scale NYC and the Tribeca Trust.  Mike is a recent graduate of Bowdoin, speaks fluent Spanish, and used to work as section 9 tenant organizer for HUD.  Sarah is a many-skilled candidate for a M.A. degree in Historic Preservation at  Columbia University.  Both interns began work last week.  That means our round-ups of the news relevant to the Human-scale fight will now be appearing weekly at best, bi-weekly at worst.  Here are their mugshots:
    Mike Van Itallie

    Mike Van Itallie

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    Sarah Reddan

  • We have a huge backlog of issues to report on.  Want to help?  Send us notices of research reports we ought to look at, and info about rallies or hearings you want people to attend.   We will try and post as many of your contributions as can fit into the round-up.  Our production days are  Mondays and Tuesdays
  • Note:  We’re always looking for a short and snappy op-ed from any of you, as well as the occasional piece of amateur architectural criticism.

 

New York’s Real Estate Industry LOVES Trump

Moreover, Trump Appoints Fellow Real Estate Moguls as “Economic Advisors”

Graphic From Real Deal Dec. 2016

Graphic from Real Deal, Dec. 2016

Two articles in industry journal The Real Deal  had bone-chilling headlines, “Who’s Pulling the Strings: and  “An Industry Eager to Embrace Trump.”  It is dated December 2016.  The latter article contains a scattershot roundup of opinion from New York’s Lords of Real Estate, most of whom describe the coming Trump era in glowing terms.

We learn that Trump supporters in the Big Real Estate World are “Lorber, Steven Roth, Richard Lefrak, and John Paulson,” not to mention billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene and Joseph Cayre of Midtown Equities.  The latter is quoted thus:

“We’re very very high on what’s happening with New York real estate now.  I think he’ll get rid of all those bureaucracies that hold back business and all those  laws that were put in in the last administration.”

Big-time broker Louise Sunshine also gives this quote, “I believe in Donald.  I believe in everything that he can do.”

Worse, we learn in the same issue of Real Deal that Trump has named developers to his so-called “economic advisory committee (being an economist, it is hard not to roll my eyes here):  Richard LeFrak, Steven Roth (Vornado Real Estate), and Howard Lorber (Chairman of Douglass Elliman Real Estate, among other titles) –  not to mention his son-in-law and fellow developer, Jared Kushner.

Well people, it is hard to contemplate all this without either laughing or weeping.  But we knew already that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.


 

What Drives De Blasio to Turn Midtown into Dubai?

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As the De Blasio administration prepares to rezone and hyper-densify Midtown East with a highly questionable air rights program and a fusillade of supertall buildings –  the quantity of which will change New York into Dubai, we ask:  why should we buy into the notion that the existing office stock is useless or can’t be renovated to suit without a rezoning?  The whole premise of the rezoning proposal seems suspect.  And hey, we know several midtown worker bees who say their offices are underused, even though beautifully renovated.  That makes us doubly suspicious.  So what gives?  Is the public good at stake here or real estate developer profits?

Buried in the Wall Street Journal is a hint:  turns out that rents for the top (meaning supertall) segment of the midtown office market is driven by the demand of hedge funds and other financial firms.  They want to rent what real estate insiders call “trophy” office space.  That means huge open spaces with mile-high views.   Here, from the real estate ads, are a couple of views the hedge funders are willing to tear Midtown apart for.

Photo from CNN

Photo from CNN

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Shame on our city politicians for allowing developers to twist our city into Dubai just so developers can get their “trophy market” profits!  And shame on them for trying to bamboozle us with stories about how the existing buildings are too old and ugly to be useful to the hedgefunders.

Making it all the more destructive an idea, it turns out that demand from hedge funders for Midtown office space is slowing down!  Real estate developers are offering all kinds of free rent and free office build-outs to get the hedge funders to rent.  All this was buried in a WSJ  sub-headline called “Hedge Fund Demand Pushes Office Rentals“. Will the slowdown dampen their enthusiasm for turning Midtown into Dubai?  Unlikely, but it should gives the pols pause.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/whats-the-deal-williamsburg-apartment-building-sells-for-45-million-1474846755


 

Activism for New Yorkers in the Age of King Trump:

An Op-Ed and an Invitation to Debate

Protester at City Hall

Protester at City Hall

In the nightmare that is upon us at in the White House, New Yorkers have heeded the call from the authors of “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” (link here).  They have also listened to the speakers at the Women’s March.  The upshot?  Thousands of furious voters are trying to copy the Tea Party tactics all over New York City.  Inboxes are flooded with calls to protest, sign petitions, rally against evil appointments, and write letters about the abuses of executive orders, and in general to lay ourselves down in the barricades against King Trump.

Our Mayor and some local electeds have been quick to take advantage of all this, addressing rallies as if our Mayor is the leading “progressive” in the nation and not a politician that is not himself deeply allied to Trump’s real estate industry.   So are the people at Indivisible sending out the right message to irate New Yorkers?  Maybe not.

The Good Part About “Indivisible” and the “New” Activism

  • It is based on copying the effective tactics of the Tea Party.  So smart not to reinvent the wheel.
  • If you have a Republican Member of Congress, the entire guide to activism is great.

The Tricky Part of applying Indivisible here in NYC

  • All our members of Congress are already Democrats!  So unless you live in Staten Island and have a Republican as your target, the proposed tactics don’t seem that useful.  Or rather, it is throwing a lot of energy for very little gain, aka, preaching to the converted.  No matter which way our Democratic electeds vote, they don’t  matter.   They’ve been rendered unimportant by the larger national picture.
  • Yes, I will absolutely concede that it does seem a wee bit useful (and even fun) to stiffen the spine of some of the machine Democrats against Trump’s agenda (like what hilariously has been happening to Senator Chuck Shuemer.  (He was stupidly voting YES to some of the cabinet appointments, that is, until Brooklynites went Tea Party on him, read here).
  • Nonetheless, with an overwhelming Republican Majority in both houses,  it feels wastful of a huge amount new civic energy here in NYC that could be used more fruitfully elsewhere in long-standing local and city fights that desperately need new troops. We could be resisting the Trump agenda here, at a local level.
  • So yes, that means that the authors of Indivisible might be wrong when it comes to NYC.

One Weird Thing about “Indivisible” and some Unanswered Questions

  • The guide is attracting a lot of obsessed fans who treat it like a Holy Book, just check out the entire Reddit forum dedicated to it here.
  • The Indivisible team is collecting huge amounts of data for future elections:  emails of millions of newly activated democratic voters, including mine.  So who are they?  What is their affiliation with the Democratic National Party?   If you were a Bernie voter, you might care to check that out.  I don’t have answers.  I looked for them, but did not get beyond the intel that the authors were “former Congressional staffers.”  Whatever that means.  Who is paying for Indivisible?  Informed readers, please enlighten us.

“The Trump Agenda” here in NYC is also a Real Estate Agenda:  We Should Fight It

  • Despite the horrible anti-immigration madness, we need to also look at the bigger picture of Trump’s agenda. Overall, he is for unleashing unregulated capitalism on us all and weakening democratic controls on executive authority.  He wants to be King and wants rules that allow him to be King.
  • The biggest industry that is poorly regulated here in NYC is the industry Trump comes from:  Real Estate.   The Real Estate industry’s grip on our elected officials, on our built environment, on our city agencies is well known and infamous.  Why not do something about it using Indivisible’s recommended tactics?  We could use Indivisible tactics on our local electeds who are in cahoots with Big Real Estate. 
  • The Financial industry is big here too, and they are regulated, but poorly so.  They might also make for a good political theatre…but that regulatory game is played in Washington, not here.
  • We have very few democratic controls on Mayoral authority here in NYC.  Might the aim of democratizing our City Charter make another great target for Indivisible tactics?  Just an idea.

Summary of Fruitful Ways for New Yorkers to Oppose the Trump Agenda

  • We could use Indivisible tactics on our local electeds who are in cahoots with Big Real Estate.
  • Find a Congressional level mid-term election race with some stakes to it and go fight for the right side.
  • Give money to national legal groups who are leading the legal charge against Trump (Earthjustice for example, or the ACLU, among others)
  • Get involved in local anti-big real estate fights, which are all over this city (see our article about how the Real Estate Industry here loves Trump).
  • Volunteer with any of the 100 civic groups in our network:  www.humanscale.nyc
  • Start demanding Campaign Finance Reform for NYC – and not the milk-toast proposals currently in  City Council.

Debate welcome.


 

Not one, but TWO grand juries looking into De Blasio?

The Influence of Big Real Estate has been too much with the Mayor

The New York Observer has been speculating on scenarios that would lead Clinton to declare herself for Mayor.  They write:  “Scenario 1: de Blasio is indicted. It’s unclear if this will happen, but once you’re being interviewed by prosecutors multiple times, it’s clearly a possibility.”

Yikes!  Our heads are spinning.  Could the real estate industry (via Trump’s son-in-law who is a real estate developer and publisher of the Observer) be throwing De Blasio under the bus?    Click here to read the full article.

The New York Times also had several articles about the two grand jury investigations into De Blasio.  The more recent can be found here.   The Times also covered the measly $48,000 fine De Blasio had to pay for campaign finance violations.  Read that here.

We also note in the same vein this related story:  Charles Hocking, president of Hazen and Sawyer and a supporter of de Blasio, is now ALSO under federal investigation. Hocking raised over $53,000 for de Blasio’s campaign with a majority of that money coming from his own employees. His company has received over $126 million in city contracts under de Blasio — that doesn’t sound suspicious, does it?  The Mayor’s claims that “no donor got favorable treatment.” Hocking is only the most recent in a number of higher-ups who gave de Blasio money and are now under scrutiny.

Click here to read the DNA Info article and here for the Daily News article.


 

Challenging the City’s Demographic Projections (Part 1)

Millennials (and Everyone Else?) Moving from Cities to Suburbs

Background

The past two Mayors have justified their “hyper-density” policies by claiming that a flood of new people are coming to the city over the next 25 years and that we have to build like crazy and as high as possible to house them.  Anyone who opposes that idea is seen as unpatriotic NIMBY.

But wait – how accurate is the part about all the newcomers over the next 25 years?

According to a demography professor at the University of Southern California, American cities have reached “peak millennial” in 2015 in terms of the number of millennial kids who moved to a city.  Recall that there is an on-going debate:  will young people raise families in urban centers or opt for the conventional suburbia?   Those estimates will impact city budgets, determine how many swanky new apartment buildings will be built, and complicate gentrification.

Turns out that suburbia is actually growing more than cities; suburbs accounted for 91% of population growth in the last 15 years. Contrary to what writers like Edward Glaeser or Vishan Chakrabarti say, not everyone wants to live here. Employment in cities has grown by only 6% while employment in suburbs has grown by 9% in recent years.  Many demographers argue that it is not cheap housing that makes people pick up and move to a new place, but JOBS.

You can read all about it in the New York Times article here and the Wall Street Journal article here.


 

Eyesore(s) of the Week:

It was a tie for us.  You choose which is worse.

Feast your eyes on One Manhattan Square (above), a new monstrosity on the Lower East Side by Extell. This glass tower is 800 ft tall and the ads for it boast a pet spa, dry cleaning valet, and a cigar room. Why have a city at your doorstep when you have everything you need inside your building and the FDR right there to make your escape to the country.  Ready to move in? Prices start at a reasonable $1.15 million. Yeah, you can definitely afford that.  Seriously people, shouldn’t they be paying damages to the surrounding residents who have to look at this eyesore the rest of their lives. Locals call it “the tower from hell.”

 

It was hard to pick a despicable tower of the week with 565 Broome St. as a contender. Hilariously, Bizzi & Partners Development claim that these condos “bring an elegant 21st century tone to the neighborhood” and “will soar above its surroundings, while fitting into the fabric of SoHo seamlessly”. Maybe I should look up the definition of ‘seamlessly’.


 

Best Signs from the Washington Women’s March: A Selection

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Quote and Understatement of the Week

“Crony capitalism, the practice of business elites abusing access to political power for their own financial gain, isn’t new to Washington.” [or New York, either, no?]

– Konrad Putzier, writing in The Real Deal, page 44, December 2016.


 

Coming up Next Week

 

  • Top neighborhood fights of 2017
  • The zoning and land use fights that will be coming up
  • Democracy Vouchers – are they better than the campaign finance reforms the City Council has been considering?
  • The Portland City tax on CEO pay:  Should we do the same?
  • Newcomers not from the Machine Challenge City Incumbents
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