News From the Human-Scale City: April 8th, 2019

`What’s In This Policy Issue?

“Why is it what communities decide, developers can override?”
– Debbie Stoller of ‘Gowanus Is Dirty”

  • Reforming the Rent Laws: What Can You Do this Week to Make NYC Less Barbaric?
  • The Madness of Building New Jails
  • Sunnyside Residents Organize Against Vishaan Chakrabarti’s Monstrous Urban Vision
  • Shadowing Prospect Park
  • The Real Estate Lobby and the Pied-a-Terre Tax
  • Despicable Real Estate Ad of the Month
  • Books We Are Reading These Days
  • Support Human-Scale NYC


What You Can Do This Week to Make New York City Less Barbaric

New York City’s rent laws are up for reform. A package of bills seeks to establish fairness and great justice into our system with rule changes that will move tenants from a state of quasi-serfdom to people with basic human rights. The package has been supported by a large coalition of both upstate and downstate organizations, ranging from the Met Council on Housing to the Democratic Socialists of New York.  One bill seeks to re-regulate apartments renting for under $5000 (the upper limit for regulation is about $2600). Another seeks to make eviction possible only with “good cause.” You can read about the bills here at the Met Council. Human-scale NYC is fully supports the work of this coalition. If you want to be helpful, you can call your state legislators (get their numbers here) and tell them you support the rent reform bills.

Or, you can attend the big coalition rally and march this Thursday evening.  See screenshot of the flyer below for time and location.


Moral March



The Madness of Building New Tower-Jails

tower jails

image via Marshall Project

The Mayor is going mad insisting we give $11 billion to real estate developers to build four new tower-jails in crowded downtowns.

Read Lynn Ellsworth’s white paper on the subject here.  Or, here are nine of the most obvious reasons why it is a bad idea.

  1. Closing Rikers is not progressive because it is not actually reform of the system. It is taking public resources AWAY from the progressive reforms of case processing, sentencing, bail, diversion, and community mental health services. A small percentage of that $11 billion would be better spend actually reforming case processing, sentencing, bail, changing the laws, and strengthening diversion and preventative mental health programs across the city.
  2. It is fiscally irresponsible in the extreme to spend $11 billion on new jails when 1/10th of that amount would renovate Rikers into a model prison our city could be proud of. We could then put $10 billion toward other public goods.
  3. It is unacceptable and illogical to claim that Rikers cannot be renovated and that its “isolation” cannot be mitigated with ferry service and other means.
  4. The symbolism of closing Rikers is just that: symbolism.  It does nothing to actually reform the administration of justice.
  5. The entire game looks like, smells like, and walks like a real estate scam to hand Rikers over to the real estate industry and to hand that industry $11 billion in new construction contracts.
  6. The takeover of public policy by a small, well-funded group of “Close Rikers” activists is unacceptable in a democracy.
  7. New tower-jails would not provide an acceptable environment to rehabilitate prisoners.   They are also destructive to existing over-crowded downtowns and simply unnecessary.
  8. Alternatives to closing Rikers that involve renovation and reform have not been given due diligence policy consideration.  They have been summarily and arrogantly dismissed by the Lippmann Commission, activists, and the Mayor.
  9. It is fiscally irresponsible to pour $250 million into an unneeded new “college campus” for the corrections officers union and even more irresponsible to give another $15-22 Billion to transform Rikers into unspecified other uses at a time when all other public goods are suffering from a lack of investment.



Sunnyside Residents Organize Against Vishaan Chakrabarti’s Monstrous Vision

Sunnyside is a neighborhood of Queens, adjacent to the sprawling railroad tracks called ‘Sunnyside Yards’.  Various entities, from the Big Real Estate Lobby to the the Regional Plan Association to Alicia Glen’s Economic Development Corporation to various Mayors (especially the current one) have long fantasized about spending up to $100 billion to deck over the tracks and build a new city on that deck, kinda like they did at Hudson Yards.  At over 180 acres, such a deck at Sunnyside would be almost 7 times larger than Hudson Yards and have a huge wall facing the rest of the neighborhood.  They would build around 30 new skyscrapers and 24,000 apartments, mostly luxury market rate units.
You can imagine the real estate fantasies going on here. The skyscaper industrial complex has long been salivating over this idea. The masterplanning contract for this site has been given to who else but Vishan Chakrabarti, an ideologue for excessive Hong-Kong like hyper-density and overdevelopment (who also commutes by car to a beach house in Bellport, LI) and a former Bloomberg planning officials, whose architectural firms always seem to get the big contracts from the city.  Chakrabarti adores real estate developers, and once declaimed to a crowd of them “You are heroes, heroes, heroes!”

Stay tuned as neighbors organize for a better vision that Chakrabarti and his kind would be incapable of even imagining.  Follow the opposition here. Read Justin Davidson’s chilling mention of it here in New York Magazine.If this kind of horrible vision of a future city repulses you, and if you can imagine better ways to build the city, take the Voter Pledge below not to support politicians who take real estate money.  (Images from the feasibility study)



Shadowing the Brooklyn Botanic Garden? Town Hall Tonight

The Movement to Protect the People  in Crown Heights, aka, MTOP, has been leading the charge in a fight against a 39-story tower in the middle of low-rise Brooklyn that will directly shadow the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  A Town Hall will take place tonight.  See the screenshot below for time and place.



The Real Estate Lobby and the Pied-à-Terre Tax

New York Times headline from last week read  “NY Had a Plan for a Pied-a-Terre Tax on Expensive Homes.  The Real Estate Industry Stopped It”.
You can read the full article here.  Human-scale NYC supports the type of tax that was under consideration, so we were sorry to see lawmakers buckle under the pressure from REBNY.

In fact, we are sick of reading how the Real Estate Lobby throws its weight around Albany or here in NYC, with nonsense about how there will be economic Armageddon if they don’t get their way, or how REBNY threatens very expensive lawsuits if lawmakers pass legislation they don’t like, such as the Small Business Jobs Survival Act?  What bullies!

It is time that changed. Click here or on the image to take the Voter Pledge not to vote for politicians beholden to REBNY.

Take the pledge graphic


Despicable Real Estate Ad of the Month

This ad showed up in The Real Deal, advertising views for rich people on 42nd Street. Notice how the ad subtly targets wealthy people  – the shoes and non-working “power outfit” and posture of the woman admiring her dominating views convey who the ad is for.  In this building, studio apartments of 500 square feet go for $1.5 million and the building is packed with “resort-style” amenities (swimming pool, yoga studio, playroom, library, theatre, private park, dog day care, parking etc.) so that the wealthy need never live in the city itself, instead they would get to loaf in what is really a gated suburban low-density village for the rich inside a high-rise tower that usurps the “skydome” for the rest of us and privatizes it for the rich. And all with a 421a tax abatement!
despicable real estate ad of the month

Books We’re Reading These Days

  1. Sam Stein has an excellent new book about gentrification and the role of planners, called “Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State”.  Find it here at Verso Books.
  2. In a similar vein, I have been reading Alessandro Busa’s engaging book “The Creative Destruction of New York City:  Engineering the City for the Elite”, which can be purchased here
  3. P.E. Moskowtiz’s book, “How to Kill a City:  Gentrification, Inequality and the Fight for Neighborhood” covers some of the same ground.
  4. Evicted:Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond is beautifully written. It is about Milwaukee but universal in its meaning. It deservedly got the 2017 Pulitizer Prize. ( Took me a while to get around to reading it.)
  5. These New York books remind me a bit of some earlier books such as Tom Angotti’s New York For Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate” which was published by MIT press way back in 2008 as well as his recent short book, “Zoned Out” and also journalist Robert Fitch’s heart-breaking book “The Assassination of New York” which came out in 1993. I’d include in that Sarah Shulman’s “The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination” that came out in 2012.
  6. Someone also sent me “Evil Paradises:  Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism” from that same period and worth look, if only for the brilliant title.
  7. As ever, I recommend “Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs” which came out in late 2016.
  8. Last, I’ve been slogging through “Making Dystopia:  The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism” by James Steven Curl. He makes great points, but it is dense going so is not for the faint of heart looking for a light read.



Support Human-Scale NYC!

The real estate lobby spends millions on lobbyists, public relations, marketing, and giving money to politicians across the city and State to impose of vision of Hudson Yards hyper-density on the entire city. By contrast, we are the only 501c3 in the city promoting human-scale urbanism that relies entirely on volunteer labor and a shoestring budget!  Help us build up our dedicated fund to hire interns and keep this newsletter going!

Donate here or write to us here to volunteer.

And as always, send corrections and typo alerts to the address below.  The photo above is from Disney’s film “Tomorrowland” and depicts the world that REBNY and Vishaan Chakrabarti seek to impose upon us.


support human-scale city today


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