News From the Human-Scale City: November 20th, 2019

This is the city, and I am one of the citizens.
Whatever interests the rest interests me.”
-Walt Whitman

In this issue:

  • Petitions You Can Sign
  • 8 Day Week in the Humanscale City (We can’t work all the time)
  • Articles of Interest for the Humanscale Agenda
  • Roundup of News from Land-use Battlegrounds
  • Fun Stuff
  • Revolving Door Watch
  • Donate to Humanscale NYC


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The Go Broome development is currently in the ULURP process.  The developer is requesting approval for a 30 story building almost 3 times what the current zoning allows. Sign the advocate’s petition and let elected officials know how you feel.




The DOB is requiring the developer who is demolishing the building next to El Sol Brillante Jr Community garden on East 12th Street to install a 25-foot sidewalk protective shed, covering half the garden for a period up to 6 months.  Sign the petition appealing to DOB to adjust the requirement to a 10’ wide shed into the garden, to ensure the community garden’s survival.



At Community Board 8’s Zoning and Development Committee meeting, urban planner George Janes presented more detail on the deeply troubling impacts of Northwell’s proposed towers that are part of the expansion of Lenox Hill Hospital.  Sign their petition here.


8 Day Week in the HumanScale City (we can’t work all the time)

Thursday, November 21 is Human-scale NYC’s End of Year Social at Lucky Jack’s at 6:30 in the East Village.  We’re going.

Friday, November 22.  We’re trying to decide between the photo exhibit about city-making at Urban Omnibus SoHo location,  or maybe distracting ourselves from the troubling big picture by going to the Merchant’s House Ghost Tour.  More likely, we’ll be on the Upper West Side studying the controversial new development sites such as 200 Amsterdam and ending up at the New York Historical Society before it closes at 8:00 p.m. to catch their exhibit “Panoramas: The Big Picture.”



Saturday, November 23:  Busy day!  Last chance to catch a screening of the half-hour film of Basquiat wandering around Lower Manhattan in the 80’s at the Metrograph at 2:30 in the afternoon and dash as fast as possible to the Center for Architecture on Laguardia Place in Manhattan to catch a screening of “Rockstone and Fire” about indigenous Jamacain houses.  May as well stay to see the exhibits “Single Story Project” and “Fringe Cities.”  If super energetic, zoom up to 110th Street to see the photo exhibit,  Lovable New York:  Buildings c. 1830-1930 at SPACED Gallery of Architecture on the Upper West Side (542 West 110th Street).  Wander around exploring how the rezoning of Morningside Heights will get depressing.  To cheer up, heading back downtown to listen to some traditional Persian poetry, music and song at The Sufi Lodge in Tribeca or off to Bushwick for a Jazz Gala. 



Sunday, November 24:  Sleep in, but don’t forget to buy tickets to the sure to sell out immersive production of a play based on some of Jane Jacobs’s ideas about urbanity put on by the New Ohio Theatre December 27-Jan 4.  More info here.  Head over to Sunset Park to walk around “Industry City” to better understand the zoning debates.  Take along a map of the new small and bizarrely disconnected historic districts there. Lots of great food to be had when you get peckish.  Could end at dusk with a visit to the Greenwood Cemetery at night, tickets here., or better, attend a fundraiser in Greenpoint for the cause of Black Land Ownership, more info here.

Monday, November 25.  Movie night.  What else but “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood?”

Looking ahead past the Thanksgiving Holidays……..

December 3rd looks to be a crazy night.  Decide between the True Blue Grassroots Coalition Meeting at the Cantor Film Center at 6:30, or Dance the Night Away with Corey Johnson to Honor Mike McGee of TenantsPac tickets here, or attend the Save Chelsea Holiday Party (RSVP

December 4:  Catch the talk at Brooklyn Historical Society “Affordable Housing for Whom?  More info here.


Articles of Interest for the Humanscale Agenda

Recognize anyone in this photo?  “The Tropical Conclave Where Politicians and Lobbyists Go to make Deals” (NY Times)




Has NY lost its luster for international real estate investors?  Hardly.  See “Tokyo-based Efficiency Capital Advisors pays $8.5 million to Winther Investment for a multifamily property in East Village.”  This is a 13 unit walk-up tenement building (Pincus)



Why we need to regulate air rights transfers!  NYC is selling ‘air rights’ from publicly-owned property, with the first big deal goes to de Blasio donors. (NY Daily News)

See as well the photo below from a few years back that makes the obvious case for regulation of air rights transfers.




Cold Truth for NYCHA Tenants: No New State-Funded Boilers for Four Years or More. (The City)



Finally, someone is talking sense about tailoring urban development policies to specific places! See “How Cities and States Can stop the Incentive Madness and Tailored Place-based Policies are Key to Reducing Regional Inequality: Two Interviews with Economist “Timorhty Bartick. (City Lab)



Uh-oh. LES Synagogue Pursues Removal of Deed Restriction to Redevelop for Residential. (Bowery Boogie)



Sunset Park leaders Demand Meeting with Mayor’s advisers Ahead of Industry City Vote. (Brooklyn Eagle)



The Retail Apocalypse:  Facing Retail Vacancy Crisis, City Council To Consider Plan For Commercial Rent Stabilization. (Gothamist)
We are finding this bill sponsored by Councilmember Levin to be inadequate in the extreme.  It creates a Mayor-dominated committee of commercial landlords (only 1 out of 9 appointees would represent the small business sector) to set commercial rents (with no upward limit) with the current inflated set of rents as the baseline rent and no accounting for locational variability through time.

The bill also ignores that a huge part of the Mom & Pop problem is the inability of a small business owner to renew their lease, should their landlord decide to kick them out.  The new Levin bill ignores the problem entirely and instead provides an inadequate solution to the setting of rents.

What we really need is a commercial version of the Good Cause Eviction bill that allows lease renewals at 3% over the inflation rate.  Now THAT would be fair and make NY a more just city.  And maybe we also need a huge tax on Amazon’s insane packaging.  As economists say:  tax the things you are trying to rid yourself of.




On the Rethinking Everything Front:  “The Suburban Office Park, an Aging Relic, Seeks A Comeback”. (NY Times); “Cities Worldwide Are Reimagining Their Relationships With Cars” (NY Times); and “New Arizona Development Bans Residents from Bringing Cars”. (Wall Street Journal)



The Times catches up with reality, about ten years after the fact:  Fort Greene, Brooklyn: Riding the Wave of Gentrification. (NY Times).  This is a pretty sad article.  Urge readers to read the fascinating comments section.



More whingeing of the landlord class at having to live with limits on rent increases:  Control Freaks: Institutional players take over landlords war on rent caps. (The Real Deal)
Landlords lob another lawsuit at new rent law. (The Real Deal)



What upzoning really does:  “Inwood Site Goes for Twice what Seller Paid Last Year”. (The Real Deal)



A few articles and op-eds touching on our issues of ethics, corporate welfare, and the opportunity zone scam:

“City must stop favoring Amazon over taxpaying business”. (Crain’s).   Meanwhile:  Real Estate has found its answer to start-up culture in Opportunity Zones (The Real Deal) and see as well this article: “Crowdfunding platform launches $20 M Opportunity zone Fund focusing on “up and coming metro areas” (The Real Deal)”.

Legislators, we need to crack down on these opportunity zones. There is not a block in NYC that needs “more” real estate capital.  Looks like the Times might be coming around to this point of view.  See their pretty good op-ed from the NY Times Editorial Board which outs “Opportunity Zones” for the scam that they are (NY Times).  They cite Pro Publica’s great work on the issue but neglect to point out that one of our City Planning commissioners has launched a $75 million dollar opportunity zone investment fund targeting Brooklyn where City Planning is undertaking all kinds of rezonings.  Hey New York Times, look at the scams in your own backyard!

On ethics, see: “Former de Blasio donor Fights Subpoena” (Wall Street Journal).  What we want to know is: how come it is a legal offense to for a donor to try and give money to the Mayor’s fund for whatever in the hopes of a land-use favor, but not illegal to take the money?  Ethicists among you, send us an op-ed!



Filed under, I’ve got a Bridge To Sell You:  A Year After Amazon Scrapped New York HQ2 Plan, Residents Get their Say [Given the players involved, TF Cornerstone in particular, we think not]  (Wall Street Journal)



Council Subcommittees Hear Four Proposed Bills on Increasing Transparency in Land use. (City Land)



Council Passes Street Masterplan. (City Land).  We’re waiting to hear from streetscape expert John Massengale (author of the excellent book ‘Street Design’ on whether or not this is a good thing, but we are suspecting it is.



5 Gowanus Sites Receive Landmark Status. (City Land) . This is great, but the real news we’d like to hear is that the City will return to the old, neighborhood approved low-rise rezoning plan for Gowanus instead of the overscaled high-rise plan that the real estate community spent nearly $800,000 lobbying for.



If Amazon starts delivering via Robot, we are in big trouble.
See the Times article “My Fight with a [Delivery] Robot:



Roundup of News From Land-Use Battlegrounds


At Community Board 8’s Zoning and Development Committee meeting, urban planner George Janes presented more detail on the deeply troubling impacts of Northwell’s proposed towers to expand Lenox Hill Hospital.  Sign their petition here.



With Community Board 7’s deadline to vote on Industry City’s rezoning approaching, two Sunset Park officials are calling on the mayor to send his top advisers to the board to shed insight — and discuss the city’s investments — as residents consider the 172-page application. (Brooklyn Eagle)



The Go Broome development is currently in the ULURP process and the developer is requesting approval for a building almost 3 times what the current zoning allows.  Sign their petition and let elected officials know how you feel.



The DOB is requiring the developer who is demolishing the building next to El Sol Brillante Jr Community garden on East 12th Street to install a 25-foot sidewalk protective shed, covering half the garden for a period up to 6 months.  Sign the petition appealing to DOB to adjust the requirement to f a 10’ wide shed into the garden, to ensure the community garden’s survival.



CM Brad Lander, is proposing a transfer of air rights to help finance improvements at three local New York City Housing Authority in Gowanus.  Lander has asked the Dept. of City Planning, to include a mechanism that would allow the three complexes, Wyckoff Gardens, Gowanus Houses and Warren Street Houses, to sell air rights into the district. (Planetizen).  This is a terrible idea, air rights need regulation, not liberation.  Landers has said that he is De Blasio 2.0 when it comes to housing, so no reason for surprise that he would come up with this.



At the last EDC meeting where they held one of their infamous visioning sessions on Sunnyside Yards.  Activists took over the meeting and conducted a teach in educating the attendees on why Sunnyside Yards is a horrible idea.  The third EDC meeting was just announced and this time, it is “digital”.  Curious indeed!



Mi Casa No Es Su Casa has started a petition to CM  Antonio Reynoso and CB 4 calling on them to reject a neighborhood improvement plan for Bushwick.  And while CM Reynoso acknowledges the plan is not entirely what they asked for, he too believes it is better than the alternative, which would be the City doing whatever they wanted. (BK Reader)


Leading up to the City Council vote on the City’s about-face on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan (ESCR), 34 groups penned an open letter to elected officials the votes cannot be delayed, requesting a delay on the vote until a truly comprehensive study of the Alternatives is made.  After over 8k petition signatures, the vote still happened – of course it passed. A big thanks to CM Carlina Rivera, CM Keith Powers and CM Margaret Chin.


Fun Stuff


After Hours Construction Map:



Street View of 1980’s New York:




Interactive Map Compares the NYC of 1836 to today:




The Three Personalities of America, Mapped.



DOT’s films the launch of a new Staten Island Ferry. Watch the video here!


Revolving Door Watch


  • Zackary Knaub, former interim chief counsel to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined Greenberg Traurig LLP’s Albany office as a shareholder in its environmental, energy and government law and policy practices.  The group’s real estate “clientele includes a broad range of property developers, lenders, investment managers, private equity funds, REITs, and private owners.” (from their website).
  • We notice real estate lobby firm Kasirer has been hiring away a lot of high-level city government employees these days.  The latest includes Remysell Salas, former Manhattan borough director of the New York City Mayor’s Office, assumes the role of associate vice president for nonprofits at Kasirer LLC … and Charlie Aidinoff, former legislative and intergovernmental affairs manager at ThriveNYC, assumes the role of director of government relations, corporate and legislation at Kasirer LLC.
  • Carlos Beato, a former staffer in the New York City Council’s central staff, is a member of the government relations and consulting firm Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno LLC and a partner in the law firm of Pitta LLP.  The law practice represents many of the public sector unions.


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