News From the Human-Scale City: November 6th, 2019

In this issue:

  • Actions You Can Take
  • Fun Stuff
  • About Humanscale NYC and This Newsletter
  • Events, Happenings, and Save the Dates
  • Quote of the Week
  • Is Your Neighborhood on This List?
  • Battlegrounds
  • Round-Up: Articles of Interest to the Humanscale City
  • Donate to Humanscale NYC
  • Take the Voter Pledge Not to Support Candidates Who Take Real Estate Money



Actions You Can Take



1. Sign the Petition to Save the Historic Demerest Building

When the Landmarks Commission doesn’t feel inclined to act (often because there is too much FAR in play for the real estate industry), they demure in Orwellian terms that a building “doesn’t rise to the level of a landmark.”  In the case of the Demerest Building, many people equally expert in the matter beg to differ.  Here is a link to GVHSP’s petition.  Daytonian In Manhattan has a nice article about it here.   Our source tells us it is not too late to sign on in support.

Fun Stuff

We forgot to include this “wish we had done that ourselves” GIF  by Daniel Hertzberg from the New York Times about shadows. It comes from an article from last spring entitled “There Goes The Sun” here.



Zachary Violette has been out giving talks promoting his recent book, “The Decorated Tenement” which rethinks the way reformers pathologized tenement buildings.  If you missed them, one of his talks was kindly uploaded to youtube and can watch it here.



Check out the new outlet for Downtown Manhattan by experienced journalist and editor Lincoln Anderson who has started his own publication, The Village Sun.


About Humanscale NYC and This Newsletter

Humanscale NYC is a non-profit born out of the Alliance for a Humanscale City. We seek a future where the build-out of New York City happens on a humanscale, driven by a true democratic process, with planning for generous parks, light, air, schools, libraries, historic districts, landmarks – all elements of a great public realm.  We are sure this can be done with a strong anti-displacement and human-scale affordable housing policy.  A human-scale future is one where the distinctive character of our city and its great neighborhoods are conserved and where unique small businesses can thrive.  Learn more about our policy ideas here.   Sign our pledge not to support candidates for City office who take real estate money here.  Underwrite the costs of our intern and our events here.

This newsletter comes out about every two weeks, thanks to a group of volunteers and our hard-working intern, Aidan Elias.  Pass it along to your friends and neighbors.

Our map of the Human-Scale city can be explored in CARTO  here. It shows how much of the “Goldilocks” neighborhoods in green are still left, despite the excessive towerization of our city.


Events, Happenings, and Save the Dates

1.  The best book about urban renewal and public housing is historian Samual Zipp’s 2010 book, “Manhattan Projects.”  Well, Professor Zipp is coming to town to speak on a very high-brow panel with Elizabeth Cohen who also wrote a book. Hers is about planner Ed Logue (Logue experimented with mid and low-rise housing projects in the late 60’s and early 70’s.) This will all be happening at the Museum of the City of New York in the context of a panel discussion entitled  “The Megaprojects That Transformed New York” on Wednesday November 20 from 6:30-8:30. You can buy ticketshere.   There is a ton of odd revisionist thinking going on about  Mayor Laguardia, Moses, and public housing in general (perhaps best exemplified by Adam Gopnik’s equivocating recent article in the New Yorker,here. ), so here’s hoping it will be a lively debate rather than the usual “New Yorkers Can Live With Anything” kind of depressing pep talk.

2.  If not too late, On November 6 (today, publication day!), author Grace Blakely will be talking about her book at the Seaport McNally Jackson Bookstore about “How To Save the World from Financialization.” As you all know, the financialization of housing in NYC is one of the great unsolved problems of our city, so do go hear what Ms Blakeley has to say.  7:00 tonight November 6 at 4 Fulton Street in the Seaport.

3.  Save the Date Thursday November 21 for Humanscale NYC’s informal “social night out” meet-up.  Come allies, friends, and the curious. We will be giving out our first Activist of the Year Award.  Come as you are after work and hang with us at Lucky Jack’s Bar starting at 6:30 p.m., 129 Orchard Street. 

4.  Brooklyn Historical Society has a good line-up of events this month, among them November 19th “Whose Waterfront?  North Brooklyn’s Environmental Justice Saga”. 

5.  On Friday afternoons from 1-4, Urban Omnibus has a photography exhibition open on the work of “Citymaking” at the Architectural League, 594 Broadway, Suite 607.  


Quote of the Week

“About 62% of all campaign contributions have some connection to some element of real estate.”

So says John Catsimatidis, Ceo of The Red Apple Group and United Metro Energy. See Commerical Observer’s interview here. Here’s the pic that came with the interview.


Is Your Neighborhood on This List?

If you are in one of these neighborhoods, watch out, Big Real Estate may well be coming for you! Commercial Observer asked 35 Big Real Estate CEO’s for their take on “under-rated neighborhoods” and you can guess what “underrated” means to a real estate Mogul.

Here is what they said, in alphabetical order of neighborhood mentioned, with the name of the real estate company whose CEO gave the interview. For more, read the interviews at the link above for Quote of the Week.

Astoria (Durst)
Bronx near mass transit (ABS Partners Real Estate and Atlas Shrugged Fan)
Bushwick (L&L)
Bushwick (Silverstein Properties)
Downtown Brooklyn (Acadia Realty Trust)
East Village (Lightstone Group)
Forest Hills, Queens (Jamestown)
Garment District (Handler)
Harlem (Rockrose)
Harlem, Washington Heights, Coney Island (Red Apple Group)
Hell’s Kitchen (HFZ Capital Group)
Jamaica, Queens (BRP Companies)
Meatpacking and West Village (Columbia Property Trust)
Midtown (Adams & Co.)
Midtown East (recently rezoned – Marx Realty)
Midtown East and Upper East Side (Himmel _ Meringoff Properties)
Morningside Heights (Savanna)
Mott Haven, Bronx (Brookfield Property Group)
Mott Haven, South Bronx (Somerset Partners)
NoMad (Rockefeller Group)
Prospect Lefferts Garden (Hudson Companies)
Queens Waterfront (Time Equities)
Rockaways (GFP Real Estate)
Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach “The Next Big Thing” (Muss Development)
South Bronx (Square Mile Capital)
Sunnyside Yards, Queens (Hines)
The Suburbs (RXR Realty)
Tribeca (Madison International Realty)
Turtle Bay Midtown East (Sage Realty)
Upper East Side (Douglaston Development)
Upper East Side (TF Cornerstone)
Washington Heights (The Kaufman Organization



Over the summer, the City Council voted to hand over the Elizabeth Street Garden to developers in the name of “affordable housing” development. Last week over 2,300 people attended the annual “Harvest Fest.” For now, the fate of Elizabeth Street Garden appears to be in the hands of the court system. (Bowery Boogie)



Gary Barnett is making another big play on the Upper West Side. Barnett’s Extell Development is putting together a development site north of Columbus Circle. As part of that effort, it is in contract to buy the New York Institute of Technology’s property at the corner of Broadway and West 61st Street for about $90 million. (The Real Deal)



The controversial building at 200 Amsterdam on the Upper West Side topped out at 52 or so stories last summer, but the legal challenges are still going on.  Here’s to raising a toast to any judge that makes the developer reduce the scale of the building!  Read more here.



The Brooklyn Anti-gentrification Network (BAN) ran a fierce and well-attended rally at Zucotti Park to demand an end to way the Department of City Planning railroads right over communties and encoruages displacement with the many ill-concieved re-zonings.  See their video on Facebook here.


Round-Up: Articles of Interest to the Humanscale City

Wish We Didn’t Have to Pay Developers and Landlords for This.  The City Council adopted a resolution to keep Knickerbocker Village’s 1,590 apartments affordable for the next 50 years. This $3-million tax break for Cherry Green Property Corp, the landlords for this almost 90-year-old housing complex, is intended to reduce the proposed rent-increase that residents have been fighting for years. (Curbed)



The Fordham Landing project: a massive development slated for 40 acres along the Harlem River, gained strong support from the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. The $3.5-billion project, which includes the construction of 2,380 residential units, would provide thousands of construction jobs.  A fascinationg factoid in the story is that the construction unions only account for 55% of construction jobs throughout the city. (The Real Deal and photo from Real Deal)



Isn’t design-build a work-around to ULURP? City officials urge Cuomo to quickly sign a bill which would allow various City agencies to use the “design-build” method – which bids out design and construction work as a single contract. (Daily News)



Sorry, more towers on their way!. This time to Prospect Heights as TF Cornerstone revealed their plans for 651,000 sf of residential space and 8,400 sf of commercial space across the two “Pacific Park” towers. (The Real Deal, photos from Real Deal)



Foolish ideas get their comeupance! Amid privacy concerns, Waterfront Toronto, the government agency in charge of development on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, voted unanimously to scale back plans for Sidewalk Labs’ 190-acre smart city, to just 12-acres. (New York Times)  This is a fascinating setback for Dan Doctoroff’s much-criticized vision of a futuristic tech-oriented urban life.



Uh-oh. CUNY is soliciting some of the biggest developers in the city to develop a John Jay College building on Amsterdam Ave, the first time the public university system would attempt to generate revenue alongside classroom space. A mob of developers toured the complex, imagining how they would tear it down and build to the heavens.  Ugh.  (The City)



Why don’t we actually own our own libraries? Why are we renting a library from Jared Kushner?  The New York Public Library’s branch at Jersey and Mulberry streets in SoHo gets a doubling in their rent, so says the landlord, Kushner Company. (Patch)



Yet another fishy deed restriction removal: after the 2012 removal of a deed restriction which required a century-old building in Bed Stuy only be used for “not-for-profit youth development, counseling and educational services” – the door was opened for the recent sale of this building to luxury developers. (The City



Why are we not surprised? Campaign finance records show that councilmember Richie Torres’ campaign for the 15th Congressional district in the Bronx has raked in over $100,000 in donations from people connected to the real estate industry. On top of that, over 96% of donations to his campaign have come from outside the 15th Congressional district. (The City)



Hey, Attorney General, shouldn’t you be investigating this? The international mega-engineering firm, AECOM, is beginning to face scrutiny for their involvement in countless city and state contracts, including the controversial plans to build four new jails, and the East Side Coastal Resiliency project. (amNewYork)



The woes of public housing and bad ideas piled on bad ideas: According to a new report from the Regional Plan Association, NYCHA properties across the city are at risk of “demolition by neglect” without a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. (Next City). True enough, but drumbeating by the RPA to move air rights as a way to pay for those repairs is a bad idea. Read about the corruption problems with NYCHA that The City publication has been investigating here.   On the bad idea front, read Crain’s report here that the City government would “require” developers profiting from the ill-considered Gowanus up-zoning to purchase air rights from the nearby public housing complex.



Finally, a good idea!  British Author Nicholas Shaxson calls for the “Shrinking of The City” – [meaning London’s Wall Street] to combat the financialization of housing and all the criminal over-investment that entails.   (The Guardian)



An Excellent Case for Sunshine: This writer lays out how access to light has emerged as one of the world’s most pressing social, health, and sustainability issues as skyscrapers crowd city’s throughout the globe. (Nature), a topic we have often covered.  Here is a screenshot of the author’s discouraging graphic illustrating the out-of-control boom in skyscraper construction.


Another good op-ed about the misguided City Council vote to build new tower-jails: This one from the blatter at Impunity City and can be read here.




Revolving Door Watch





    • Former Sunshine Sachs account manager and Empire State Development Corporation press secretary Amy Varghese is now deputy director of communications for New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Empire State Development Corp is famous for eminent domain proceedings against what is left of humanscale New York.


    • David Bernal, former real estate analyst with Cayuga Capital Management (which does real estate mostly) is now a policy analyst with the bureau of economic development in the office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer


    • Gregory Mitchell, former chief of staff to New York City Councilman Robert Holden, is now an associate consultant for RG Group’s New York office.  RG styles itself as “a leading NY Government Relations and Lobbying Firm” that represents Forest City Ratner among other Big Real Estate guys.


    • Vicky Reing, former deputy counsel and director of policy at Bronx Borough President’s office, has joined Global Strategy Group’s New York Public Affairs Practice as a director. Global Strategy represents big real estate clients like Silverstein, Trinity, Fisher Brothers, and Friends of the High Line.|


    •  Erika Tannor, former communications and policy director to New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal, is now a senior associate at Tusk Strategies. Tusk’s clients include Blackstone (owner of Sty town), Whole Foods (meaning, uh… Amazon?), and Walmart.


    •  Sarah Bangs, former deputy secretary for the New York State Senate, has joined Bolton-St. Johns as a managing director. Bolton-St. Johns is a perennial “Top 10 Lobbyist” for Albany and New York City, and among the ‘best paid’ according to Crain’s.


    • Rob Diamond, the former special assistant to President Barack Obama and senior aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has launched his new firm, Stratagem Public Affairs, focusing on lobbying and issue advocacy …




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