NEWS FROM THE HUMAN-SCALE CITY: FEBRUARY 28, 2017

In the Issue:

 

  • Save the Date: Preservation Conference this Saturday
  • The Times on NYC Overcrowding
  • Update: LES’s “Tower from Hell” has FOUR Diabolical Neighbors Coming
  • Throwback: critic Ada Louise Huxtable’s still-relevant 1969 op-ed
  • Is Someone Giving us Alternative Facts about the “Million” People We have to Build for by 2040?
  • The Luxury Housing Glut: Will it Trickle Down? Unlikely
  • Bad Idea of the Week #1
  • Just as Bad Idea of the Week

 

Save the Dates:  Annual Preservation Conference

The Historic District Council’s Annual Preservation Conference:  Saturday, March 4, 2017

  • This Saturday in Tribeca, at the New York Law School (corner West Broadway and Leonard).
  • Time: 9-4
  • Register here.
  • Keynote Speaker, Gina Pollara (photo below)

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THE TIMES REPORTS ON NYC OVERCROWDING

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Three Times articles in the last two months note the extreme overcrowding of our city, the result of overdevelopment and excessive densification in recent years. This weekend, the Times reported on two symptoms of this overcrowding: worsening subway service, and increased trash and litter volume. On December 2, 2015, a long feature described the issue specifically in Lower Manhattan. While these articles contain hints of the usual Timesian “isn’t all the growth just incredible?!” boosterish tone, they at least begin to suggest that maybe, just maybe there are drawbacks to all this density. Baby steps.

Related: Our Town Downtown recently published an alarming report on school overcrowding in Lower Manhattan and the City’s reliance on developers to build more schools as part of new developments.


 

UPDATE: 4 (Four!) More Towers to Join Extell’s “Tower from Hell”

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Last week’s “Eyesore of the Week” segment featured what Lower East Siders call the “Tower from Hell,” Extell’s One Manhattan Square, a 800-plus foot behemoth currently rising above the Manhattan Bridge overpass. Well, turns out that’s just the tip of a hellish iceberg of glass that will soon loom over and dominate the neighborhood.  Four developers (JDS, CIM Group, L+M Development Partners, and Starrett) have joined the party Extell started, each filing plans for buildings of no less that 700 feet.  But HAVE NO FEAR: the developers have apparently banded together to launch an “unprecedented effort” to engage community residents about the impact of their developments. They also have a plan — bullet-proof, no doubt — to combat school and train overcrowding and provide public space for the neighborhood.

Perhaps the most shockingly undemocratic aspect of this affair is the fact the city denied the neighborhood’s request (which had the support of several prominent elected officials) for a land review procedure. Said Carl Weisbrod, Director of DCP, “Because the proposed modification will not require any new waivers or zoning actions… the modifications will be treated as ‘minor.'” Minor… right.  (Coverage here.)

Curbed‘s entire coverage of the Hell towers.

Residents saw right through the developers’ “planning session.”  Coverage.

 


 

ADA LOUISE HUXTABLE’S 1969 COLUMN ON HOUSING STILL RINGS TRUE

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In 1969, the famous architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable (yes, that’s her with that cool 1960’s hairdo) wrote a column describing her experience of being priced out of various shabby but architecturally stunning brownstone parlor apartments over a 20-year period — all of which were demolished.  She ended up being cornered into a characterless 4-room apartment on Park Ave for which she paid $45,000 (this was the 1960’s, people) which was comfortable, but for an architectural critic, it was dispiriting:  ow ceilings were one problem, and the only architectural features she pointed out were the “brass doorknobs.”

“Service stores” she said, “have been rooted out en mass by the new construction.” Moreover, “whole streets of gentle brownstones were replaced by cracker boxes called luxury apartments. If I peer down six stories I can still see a tree,” she pointed out with a stab at sarcasm.


 

Is Someone Giving us Alternative Facts about the “Million” People We Have To Build for by 2040?

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Hyper-density advocates Vishaan Chakrabarti and Jesse Keenan published a study in 2013 outlining their take on how NYC must adapt to accommodate its next “one million residents”. It is a fat report funded by the Carnegie Corporation. We learn right away that New York will manage quite fine — without big up-zonings — to accommodate the next 700,000 people who will be born here. But we also learn that 300,000 of the 1 million future residents are merely hoped-for migrants from other parts of the country, notably young millennials looking for bright lights. The central thesis of the report: these new young people should be “concentrated in zones of higher density so as to maximize the efficient delivery and consumption of urban services.” The premise ignores the larger economic fact that people move around our country not because of housing prices, but to follow job growth. It is entirely possible that the imagined 300,00o people will not materialize. There is no actual guarantee they will not go to Washington (government jobs) or Fargo (oil jobs) instead. Even if they did decide to come here over the next 25 years, why wouldn’t they spread themselves out across all five boroughs? The authors don’t want them to spread out. All those young millennial types should live in a hyperdense Manhattan, the waterfront of Brooklyn and Queens, and Southern Bronx. The urgency, they claim is this: if New York does not become hyperdense (and thus, they claim, affordable and livable) in time, “the projected population growth could instead go either to our suburbs or to other regions with which the city competes with nationally and internationally.” Really? Sounds like drumbeating and crisis-manufacturing to us.

Sidebar question from our intern: since when does hyperdensity mean affordability and livability? What these hyperdensity zealots do not get is that city living is not about “maximizing the efficient delivery and consumption of urban services.” To these guys, their urban ideal is living in a mega project where your condo, office, supermarket, gym, school, pharmacy, etc. are all part of the same complex and you never have to go outside your big mixed-use development. Maximum efficiency! NYC is going to grow, and that means more housing, sure. But let’s please recognize that New York’s best and most desirable neighborhoods are human-scale neighborhoods and new human-scale neighborhoods are entirely possible. But it may be too much to ask: building great neighborhoods requires another kind of planning process altogether that our City Planning Commission seems unfamiliar with.

If you want to continue this unpacking of the demographic assumptions behind the hyper-density agenda, write to us.


 

LUXURY HOUSING GLUT:  What does it mean?

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A series of articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times over the past six months have reported on the increasing oversupply of luxury housing in NYC. As a result, the articles report, prices have stagnated and concessions have increased in the high end of the market. But what does this mean for the rest of the market? According to the pro-growth argument pushed by the real estate industry, the glut should “trickle down,” as the supply at the top end opens up supply in the middle and, in turn, lower ends of the market. Will it work?  Seems about as unlikely as trickle-down economics.

Read about the housing glut in the WSJ here and here and in the NYT here and here.


 

Bad Idea of the Week?

This week we want to bring your attention to the giant, 23-story glass complex NYU is building at 181 Mercer Street.  The Coles Sports Center in that location will be demolished and replaced with a a 735,000 square-foot transparent, glass building.  The new complex, which will be completed in 2021 will include classrooms, a pool, theaters, and an orchestra space.  Preservationists, community members, and NYU faculty members opposed the project, however despite a lawsuit the glass complex will still be built. But it will have a green roof, so that makes the large, visually-intrusive building okay?

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Photo from Curbed.


 

Finally, we have another Bad Idea of the Week for you.

You guessed it:  the new WTC Performing Arts Center.  The center has been delayed for a decade, but now Brooklyn-based firm REX has revealed a new design (replacing Gehry’s original design). Supposedly, the off-center, box-like design is meant to represent the void in the WTC’s reflecting pools.  It will be made of, “dominant facade material will be a marble cut so thin it’s translucent” and will accommodate 1,200 people. While we are happy it’s not another high tower, the plain box looks more like a tower was just sliced in half.  As for that thin-cut marble…anyone else worried that after a few rainy seasons we’re going to see that marble bowing?

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That’s it for this week. Coming up soon: a special issue on the upzoning of Midtown, as Dubai-on-Hudson advances through the land-use game.

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