News From the Human-Scale City: January 9th, 2020

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

In this issue:

  • Upcoming Events, Meetings, Rallies
  • Announcing Our New Instagram Feed: DemolishedNewYork
  • More On the Inwood Victory
  • Articles of Interest
  • Battlegrounds
  • Fun Stuff and Scary Too
  • Despicable Real Estate Ad(s) of the Week

Happy New Year!

We publish this newsletter about every two weeks, thanks to volunteers who put it all together. It is a round-up of the news related to our cause, with commentary.  An archive of our old newsletters is on our website.

Human-scale NYC is a non-profit that advocates for human-scale urbanism and democratic control over our built environment. We are also a citywide network of neighborhood organizations and activists working on a wide range of issues:  overdevelopment, historic preservation, campaign finance reform, housing affordability, zoning, urban planning, the small business crisis, and opposition to the privatization of public assets. Join us

Please do forward this newsletter to anyone who might be interested in making sure that New York is a city for people, not just real estate corporations.

Send errors, corrections, typo alerts, notifications of dead links, offers to volunteer, and questions to



Upcoming Events, Meetings, Rallies



Wednesday, January 8th, 6-8 p.m. at Scholastic Building’s Basement auditorium, 130 Mercer Street and Wednesday, January 15th at 6:30 pm at the Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street, Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee

Village Preservation reports that there are two critical upcoming meetings on the controversial study by the City, BP Gale Brewer, and CM Margaret Chin about regulations in NoHo and SoHo.  It is filled with potential recommendations for zoning and other changes. The first is Wednesday, January 8 from 6-8pm at the Scholastic Building’s basement auditorium at 130 Mercer Street (south of Prince Street), being held by the study sponsors. It’s critical you attend and let them know you oppose upzoning and larger retail allowances. The second meeting is Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee next Wednesday, January 15th at 6:30 pm at the Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street (Mott/Elizabeth Streets). Please attend to let the Community Board know what your priorities are and how they can help shape the response to the City’s report, especially re: a potential upzoning and larger retail allowances.



Friday, January 10, 3:00 p.m

22 Second Ave between East 2nd and 3rd Street, Rally opposing the demolition of Nativity Parish Church and Rectory on Lower East Side for luxury housing. Flyer below.




Friday, January 10, 7:00 p.m

Public meeting of Save Our Seaport, Southbridge Tower Community Room. Screenshot of flyer below.




Sunday, January 12, 12:30-2:30 p.m at Sanger Hall, 48-20 Skillman Avenue, Sunnyside

Our partner in Sunnyside, Stop Sunnyside Yards, is hosting a free screening of the film “Battle for Brooklyn” at a local restaurant (come prepared to order something!).



Tuesday, January 14th, 6:00 p.m.

The Horrifically Over-scaled Williamsburg Nightmare Towers will be presented to Community Board 1 at a Combined Public Hearing and Board Meeting.

@ Swinging 60’s Senior Citizen Center (Corner of Manhattan Avenue)

211 Ainslie Street, Brooklyn, NY 1121



Monday, January 20, 1:00, at City Hall

Rally with the Coalition to Save Chinatown and the Lower East Side



Announcing Our New Instagram Feed: DemolishedNewYork

Tired of the astonishing pace of demolitions in NYC? Tens of thousands of buildings have been demolished since 2002.

So follow our new Instagram feed containing pictures of buildings demolished under the reign of either Bloomberg or De Blasio.
#demolished #newyorkcity

Send us pictures of buildings that have been demolished since Bloomberg took office (2002) and we will post them. If you know the exact year they were demolished, tell us that too.



More on the Inwood Victory

As we reported just before Christmas in the December 18 issue of this newsletter, a judge has annulled the Inwood rezoning. See that issue for details and links. But here is some more follow-up information about the p.r. that has taken place since then:

  • the Mayor got on Brian Lehrer’s radio show (note to Humanscalers: Lehrer is an Inwood resident but has NEVER covered community resistance to rezonings anywhere, nor our side of the jail issue, nor our take on any of the zoning and campaign finance reforms we have advocated for, nor the Charter Reforms we advocated for, so maybe you should call in and ask him to do so….). On the show the Mayor tried to frame the judge as an “activist” and vowed to overturn the decision. The Mayor’s office even published a transcript of the show on its website here. Yeah, yeah. Of course the Mayor will appeal. Still, what have they said about a Mayor who is tone-deaf? The attempts of the Mayor, Glen, Been, de Lago, and REBNY to cast disagreement with “rezonings as an affordable housing policy” as mere “Nimbyism” is deeply insulting to the vast network of voters and taxpayers who, it turns out, are smart enough to know when the real estate industrial complex is taking over the city.
  • Meanwhile, Inwood residents had a grand celebration victory in the freezing cold in front of a Church that has supported their cause, with food, prayer, raucous speeches, and vows to fight on. See bad photo below that was of a speaker rather than of the crowd.
  • The mainstream press has been strangely silent about this, I guess if the Times ignores the win long enough they can pretend it never happened. But The Real Deal has covered it for sure! Their first article can be read here in which there are despicable quotes from real estate industry lawyer Ken Fisher trying to insult the whole case (good luck with that, Mr. Fisher). Another article was about how surprised the activists were, read that here. That first is fascinating for how it says straight out that Inwood is NOT one of those neighborhoods who needs help for the market to cross-subsidize affordable units. Hmmm, ever wonder who had the idea to rezone Inwood in the first place? The answer: a city planner from the Bloomberg years! The Inwood rezoning was all about increasing the city’s tax revenue from the area, not about providing affordable housing.
  • But by far the most interesting coverage was the article from the Real Deal’s January 2020 paper edition (no on-line access), which cites the Times last September here, where we learn that developers have purchased $610 million in properties since the city announced the idea of rezoning Inwood in 2013. That kind of massive speculation is one way that rezonings cause displacement and raise housing prices, rather than lower them. That is because the neo-liberal De Blasio Administration (and Vicky Been, the theorist of all this) doesn’t understand, or maybe doesn’t want to understand, that the real cause of inflated housing prices is the massive amount of speculative capital, from REITS to pension funds that are floating around the city looking for a place to land and raise prices. Until speculative capital is regulated, housing prices will never be tamed. You heard that here, folks. And yes, it’s Econ 101, just not the idiotic kind of Econ 101 that hyper-density guru Edward Glaeser and his foot soldiers at YIMBY and Open New York blog.
  • Listen to a great WBAI broadcast interviewing two of the Inwood activists discussing the case here.


Articles of Interest



New York 1 covers the supertall phenomenon. Check it out here.




Journalist Roberta Gratz’s op-ed in the NYRB Check it out here.

Well, we aren’t called out specifically, but hey, we’re in the title:  “How New York Is Zoning Out the Human-Scale City”.  Read it here.



The Immensity of New York City’s Trash Problem

The problematic export of our city’s garbage is finally getting the reporting that the subject merits in Politico here.  WNYC also covered the story here.  Their photo shown below.




All Those People Complaining about “Lost Jobs” from Amazon Now have Egg on Their Face

Turns out Amazon didn’t need billions in incentives to come to NYC after all. Amazon has committed to more than 300,000 square feet of office space at SL Green Realty’s redevelopment of this Far West Side office building at Hudson Yards. Hate to say it, but we told you this would happen! And in related Amazon news, turns out Amazon owes big real estate firm of Durst millions for ditching a 2014 deal in Midtown (The Real Deal). Ouch, the pain, the pain!  And given that Amazon is coming to Hudson Yards after all, isn’t it a weird kicker to find out that our politicians offered Amazon $800 million more than was previously known in incentives to get the e-commerce giant to build its  second headquarters in the Queens? (The Real Deal). And let’s not forget that SL Green who is renting to Amazon is one of the three largest commercial landlords in the city.



Filed Under, “Why Are We Not Suprised?”

Big real estate players have raised a bundle for Biden (The Real Deal).



Landlords are organizing, predictably with an “Astroturf Groups”

Landlords have formed The Community Housing Improvement Program.  At its core is a plan to eliminate the Individual Apartment Improvement system, which historically allowed property owners to pass the cost of rehabilitation work on a unit onto tenants—but which the state Legislature strictly capped at $15,000 worth of projects over a 15-year period. (Crains).  They have also formed Alliance for Rental Excellence NY, with the hopes of breaking the left’s hold on the Senate in 2020. (The Real Deal).



How Well does your community board represent the district

  • Not very well in Brooklyn. Brooklyn has the largest community board system of any borough: 18 boards, with 900 potential positions. According to the analysis, Latinx people are underrepresented on all but two Brooklyn community boards. (Brooklyn Eagle).
  • Not very well in Queens either. Queens has 14 community boards. White people are overrepresented on every single board compared to their population in the corresponding district. Women account for fewer than 40% of the members on six boards; only six board members — out of 663 — indicated that they were LGBTQ on their applications. (Queens Eagle)



Is Real Estate Up or Down?

WSJ reports that the 2019 market for Manhattan residential real estate was one of the worst in nearly a decade (Wall Street Journal).  Meanwhile, reporting in the opposite direction, Commercial Observer reports that “Luxury Real Estate Poised To (mostly) Strengthen”.  And then The Real Deal has an article from January 9th of 2020 entitled “Luxury Rents Up Across the City“, so maybe the WSJ’s sources are exaggerating. Humanscale suspects that the sector is doing just fine and that deals are being inked everywhere.  Hey, the opportunity fund scam has barely begun!



Into the Territory of Unknown Consequences for Neighborhoods

New York City officials cheered after Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a bill that will let them use a fast-track contracting process called “design-build” on a variety of public-works projects. (Wall Street Journal).  We wonder how this affect the ULURP process.



Add to the Case Against Facebook: They Love Ugly Buildings

“Call It the Facebook Effect, as Tenants Flock to New York’s Far West Side” says WSJ, reporting that Debevoise & Plimpton’s new headquarters will be at Tishman Speyer’s new development, the Spiral. (Wall Street Journal).  This does not speak well to Facebook’s taste for faceless, dyspotic architecture.  One more reason, folks, to shut down your account.



Meet Manhattan’s New Historian

Robert W. Snyder, the Bronx-born historian is a scholar, researcher, academic, journalist, editor, and author or co-author of five non-fiction books, all of them about New York City.  Snyder is taking on one of the most interesting, unpaid and quirky posts the city has to offer: Manhattan borough historian. Appointed by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who terms his knowledge of history “unmatched,” he’s already settled into work in the Municipal Building. (West Side Spirit)







Taking Away Playgrounds? How Ham-fisted Does Affordable Housing Policy Have to Be?

Mayor Bill de Blasio got hammered by angry public housing tenants over City Hall’s controversial proposal to demolish two low-slung buildings and a playground in Chelsea’s Fulton Houses to make room for three new apartment towers that would hold mostly market-rate housing.  Side note, this town hall was in Speaker Johnson’s district and he did not show up. (NY Post)



Inwood Activists Explain their Legal Win on the WBAI Radio

If you missed it, you can listen to this excellent radio broadcast interviewing Katherine O’Sullivan (our treasurer and an Inwood resident) and PhD environmentalist Maggie Clark here. 



A Fight to Follow

The city has declined to bow to a list of demands made by Sunset Park Councilman Carlos Menchaca – his list of what would have to happen to get his approval for an application to rezone Industry City by Sunset Park — increasing the lawmaker’s resolve to vote down the controversial rezoning.  (Brooklyn Paper)



Will They Ever Stop Prettifying Ugly Buildings with Watercolor

The City Planning Commission on Monday certified a proposal by The Flushing Willets Point – Corona Local Development Corporation (FWCLDC) to begin the ULURP process of the redevelopment of the Special Flushing Waterfront District.  The proposal includes nine buildings spread across four neighboring sites. The overall project will comprise of 1,725 apartments. (QNS).  It won’t look this pretty, folks.



Filed Under “Stranger Things”

Back in September, two legal challenges against Extell’s Upper West Side skyscraper at 50 West 66th Street were dismissed by the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals. Now, in a new lawsuit strangely initiated by Extell claims that one of the nonprofits that has been suing the development, City Club of New York, violated an agreement to drop their case against the project for a $300,000 settlement, while “secretively” continuing to pursue the case, the Commercial Observer reports. (Curbed)



Should We Laugh or Cry?

Soon after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city’s ambitious plan to extend lower Manhattan into the East River, Klaus Jacob, a special research scientist with Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, received a surprising invitation. The Milken Institute, a global think tank, was hosting an event to discuss financing the mayor’s proposal. “Everyone from Wall Street was there,” Jacob recollects. “I don’t know why [they invited me] because I told them upfront I don’t think much about this thing.”  Jacob has based his scientific career on studying climate change and New York City. Jacob I said, ‘Well, congratulations how quickly you found a way to finance this,’” he recalls. “‘But I want to tell you how it looks to me. You just declared war to sea level rise. As many politicians declare war quickly, I want to know your exit strategy when you can’t sustain it any longer.’” Silence followed. Without a response, the group decided to break for lunch. (Curbed)



Councilmember Reynoso Bravely Draws A Line in the Sand

City planning officials have reached an impasse with Bushwick Councilman Antonio Reynoso over the scope of the Bushwick rezoning, including how many new units of market-rate and affordable housing should be allowed under the plan.  The city want to rezone 300 blocks in Bushwick, creating around 5,600 new apartments, up to 30% of them, or 1,680 units, to be “affordable” under MIH.  Reynoso’s wants to cap the number of new units at 2,000 and that they all be reserved as affordable. Reynoso objects to the city’s plan to upzone side blocks in the neighborhood and rezone manufacturing lots to permit residential development.  In his December letter, Reynoso gave the city until January 10th to respond to his request. (Crains)



Isn’t This What Eminent Domain Ought to be Used For?

Luxury real estate developers have entered into a long-term lease agreement to redevelop a large Surf Avenue parking lot.  Early in the de Blasio administration, they said they would explore using eminent domain on parking lots to be used for affordable housing.  Obviously, that is not happening here.  (The Brooklyn Paper)



Waiting for Details abotu Penn Station

Cuomo Says State Will Acquire Manhattan Block to Expand Penn Station. Governor doesn’t say how much it would cost, says eight new tracks could be built. (Wall Street Journal).  But hey, what about the plan to rebuild the OLD Penn Station?  Is that idea being wrongly ignored here?



Shaming the Ford Foundation for Mucking Around in Public Policy in the Worst Way Possible

Maybe because they have money, foundations always think they know best.  Yet, over 100 Ford Fellows Criticized Ford Foundation President’s Support of Prisons to Replace Rikers.  In the open letter, they write, “The evidence is clear, more jails – no matter how ‘humane’ – lead to higher rates of incarceration, perpetuate the disruption of families (especially in communities of color), and are harmful to human health.” (Hyperallergic)



An End Run Around Zoning Rules for Brownstone Brooklyn

Brooklyn Hospital Center is plotting to redevelop its Fort Greene site and plans to unload some of its property along the way.  The hospital will submit paperwork seeking the rezoning of its 5.5-acre site that fills an entire block adjacent to Fort Greene Park.  An early version of the hospital’s plan shows that it will seek to sell off about two-thirds of its current land to buyers who will build residential and commercial high-rise towers. The Real Deal)



Beautifully written update about 200 Amsterdam from Olive Freud of Committee for Environmentally Responsible Development

“The American flag has been hoisted atop 200 Amsterdam Avenue, signifying that the Developer has reached his desired maximum height. But it does not signify that 200 is standing on a legal zoning lot. Two years ago, at the insistence of New York State Supreme Court, we entered a settlement agreement that allowed a hole in the ground to be dug by the Developer with the understanding that he would ultimately abide by the Judge Perry’s determination of what the exact configuration of the legal zoning lot was. But two years later, Judge Perry’s decision is yet to be forthcoming. And in those 2 years, the Developer took advantage of the Court’s delay and rushed to construct a 668-foot building. With the benefit of hindsight, we were wrong to believe the Court would move expeditiously. To date, neither DOB or BSA has provided us with an explanation of why they never challenged the gerrymandered lot at 200 Amsterdam. If the Developer thinks we will simply go away, he is wrong. The residents of this community and our elected officials (see page 2) will pursue this out of scale intrusion into our neighborhood through every legal venue open to us: state and federal. This isn’t about just one building. If 200 Amsterdam is not challenged, it will set a bad precedent for future urban design, environmental concerns and quality of life issues. As of now, wrongheaded development is being proposed for 36 West 66th Street, 91st Street and Broadway, NYCHA projects and many more. Overdevelopment is rampant in New York City. The government is supposed to protect us from greedy entrepreneurs who manipulate regulations and claim their proposals are legal simply because they say so. But let us take heart in recent news stories such as the one in Inwood whereby Judge Saunders ruled in favor of the Inwood community and Gale Brewer who opposed Mayor DeBlasio’s attempt to rezone that area. There can be no legal justification for the gerrymandered zoning lot. The height of the building must be based on a legal zoning lot.”



Who Can Stop BIG? Why Won’t the City?

Brownstoner reports that Residents who came to CB1’s office in Williamsburg to attend a presentation about Two Trees proposed waterfront development were shut out.  Bjarke Ingels Group and James Corner Field Operations have been tapped for the development, which, in addition to the beach and massive rental towers also includes a 47k sq ft YMCA with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, 30k sq ft of retail space and 57 sq ft of office space.(Brownstoner) . See the events section above to attend a community board meeting about this mess.



Intriguing Doings at the Public Hearing on Lenox Terrace

The public hearing over the horrible Lenox Terrace in Harlem on December 18th was notable for a couple of reasons.  One was the surprise showing of prolific architecture critic and CUNY Professor Michael Sorkin, speaking against the developer who proposed this mess for Harlem (illustrated below).  Another was the attempt of some members of the City Planning Commission to ask one of the tenant leaders present in the room “what they would want” to make them not oppose the project. That leader was apparently surprised and started tossing out vague wish lists.  Then the other tenants in the room began heckling, saying that the leader was overstepping.  You can listen to the hearing on-line here.




Fun Stuff and Scary Too



“New York’s Subway Map Like You’ve Never Seen It Before” (NY Times), a history of the map redesign.



Amazing (and disturbing) Real-Time Air Quality Map
Check it out here.



An over-illuminated city like New York can be a dangerous place for birds: Each year, up to 230,000 birds collide with its buildings, and many die as a result.  So the city council passed a bill that will require exteriors on the lowest 75 feet of new buildings, and on any structure above a green roof, to have avian-friendly materials such as patterned glass that make transparent surfaces more visible to birds flying at full speed. (City Lab).  We are not convinced that this is an adequate solution to the avian apocalypse, but at least they are trying. What about the lights at night that are a major cause of the collisions?  Read a U-Michigan report here.

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