News From the Human-Scale City: June 16th, 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


Be a good citizen — call or write these decision-makers

We are dancing in the streets with delight at the hard-won victories for tenants last week in Albany (although we mourn the non-passage of the good cause eviction bill, but we can still push it again next year).

But the session in Albany is not over, and we need one more push!

1.  Close the loopholes the allow supertalls!   While City Planning and others are spouting nonsense that they have addressed the issue at the level of the City Council, it is simply not true. The fix for the loopholes that allow developers to build on stilts is sitting in the housing committee in Albany!  So write your state legislators, or call them, and tell them to support Rosenthal and Jackson’s bill to close the loopholes.  Try our handy “one click letter” to save time here. 

2.  Tell the City Charter Commission to edit the Charter to end “fox guarding the henhouse appointments at our land use agencies.  You can do it in one-click here. 



Round up of the Human-Scale City News

  • The outrages over the Gowanus rezoning continue. Turns out the original proposal that community members supported preserved the historic buildings and favored a human-scale build out of this former manufacturing zone. Real estate interests then joined forces for a massive lobbying campaign and the result is a high-rise rezoning plan that nobody wants except City Planning and Big Real Estate. Read more here. Shame on City Planning and Councilmember Lander for caving into the bullying of real estate interests.
  • A judge has temporarily halted forward movement on the huge illegal towers slated for the Two Bridges area, thanks to community lawsuits. Read more here.
  • Human-scale NYC’s rezoning working group is planning action’s against the fox guarding the henhouse character of the City Planning Commission. Read more here.
  • In the dog bites man news category, we learn that in Bushwick, City Planning has come up with a rezoning proposal that ignores much of what the community itself had proposed and favors 16 story buildings? Read more here . Is it any surprise given that last year the head of City Planning for Brooklyn, Winston Von Engel said “Our intention is to preserve the character and the buildings, not the people in them.” (read about that here.)
  • The SoHo working group has come up with a report, here, that merely echos City Planning’s undocumented belief that the current rezoning is a problem (but does not specify how it is a problem), which makes outsiders wonder, why did they do all those meetings? The lesson this observer learns is that these agency and politician curated working groups are not democratic and are a waste of time. We are taking bets: the official diagnosis of a “problem” will be used to justify some kind of bizarre up-zoning. Just wait and watch!
  • The new giant (unneeded and unnecessary) tower-jails grind through the biased and shameful ULURP process, despite massive opposition and all community boards voting the new jails down. Our testimony ad that of Tribeca Trust is below.
  • We need to fix the city’s “conflicts of interest” rules so that public servants are banned from lobbying for at least five years after leaving office. If Ted Cruz and AOC can both get behind a lifetime ban, why can’t we do better than a one-year ban? Check out the case of former LPC and BSA Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan here, where she appeared before Community Board 5 as a Kramer Levin lobbyist on behalf of Marble Collegiate Church, whose case she had heard when she was Chair of the LPC. Ugh… time to close the revolving door!



Six reasons building new jails is a bad idea

(mock-up of new jail shown below in gray massing)

This was Lynn Ellsworth’s testimony on the issue on behalf of  Tribeca Trust
  1. It is fiscally irresponsible to spend $11 billion on new jails while dismissing and ignoring the much cheaper option of renovating Rikers as well as expanding pedestrian and ferry access to it.
  2. Paying developers to build these tower jails diverts money away from the more important criminal justice reforms of case sentencing, case processing, bail, pre-trial diversion and community based aftercare. That is ethically irresponsible.
  3. The ULURP process and neighborhood councils have been a Potemkin charade. DCP’s refusal to modify in any way the jail plans and its decision to proceed with hiring design-build managers before ULRUP is even over show how yet again how DCP sees the jails as a done deal and ULURP as an irrelevant pro forma.
  4.  No community can get a fair hearing at this particular City Planning Commission: every single one of the 13 appointed commissioners are affiliated with the real estate industry or dependent on it.  Only one has a degree in urban planning!  Hearings there have become a Kangaroo court within a rigged game.  There should be a moratorium on all text amendments until this situation is rectified.
  5. The arguments for the necessity of new jails are based on highly debatable ideas about about architecture and the kind of service provision detainees require.
  6. I suggest taking a look at the imminent sale of a fine historic building on Central Park North that now serves the corrections system.  The building will be converted to condos for their fine views of Central Park.  That’s a good indicator of what will happen to new tower jails in a few years when the detained population drops.
  7. For all these reasons, we urge our electeds to oppose the building of new jails.



Reading and listening recommendations for the week

  1. Joel Kotkin’s book, “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us” does a pretty good job of summarizing the human-scale idea of urbanism.
  2. Anyone who is irritated by the total mismanagement of public spaces in NYC, especially the POPS, ought to check out Gregory Smithsimon and Arthur Eisenberg’s two essays on the legal use of public space in the book “Beyond Zuccotti Park:  Freedom on Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space, edited by Ron Shiffman, Rick Bell et. al…
  3. One of the mysteries in economics is how economic growth happens.  Economists really don’t understand it.  One of the better descriptions of how it does happen in cities can be found in Michael Storper’s “Keys to the city:  How Economics, Social Interaction, and Politics Shape Development.” 




Take the pledge!

Click here, or on the image below, to take the pledge.

Take the pledge graphic


Donations to Human-Scale are welcome. Click here.



Recent Posts