OPINION: We Need Soho and Noho as They Are


By Lynn Ellsworth

I don’t live in SoHo or NoHo, but I walk there often, for work, errands and sheer pleasure. These neighborhoods are one of the city’s greatest gifts to an amateur urbanist. Thank you Jane Jacobs, who saved them from Robert Moses’s highway plans! Thank you Margot Gayle, who convinced the city to make them historic districts! There is so much beauty at every corner. The cobblestones, the infinite variety of cast-iron fronts and brick Romanesque buildings—they delight in every light. If architecture can make you happy, this is where that magic happens. So much of New York has become corporate and ugly that there seems to be little relief from its hardness. We need and deserve Soho and Noho’s beauty. We need and deserve the pleasure of a connection to the city’s past and to savor the delights of a humanscale city. There is a modernist idea that the cruelty of global capitalism needs to be architecturally shoved in front of our faces at all times just to create anxiety in us. Architectguru Peter Eisenman promotes this idea and it appears that the developers who rule the Real Estate Board of New York agree. Well I don’t agree, and I bet you don’t either.

Moreover, I know lots of community-minded people who live in those neighborhoods— none are filthy rich or deserving of contempt. The demonization of residents at the public hearings has been despicable. All this is why the current rezoning proposal weighs so heavily on my heart. I am angry at de Blasio and his hench people at City Planning and also at the architects of his policies, Vicki Been and Alicia Glen. They are the avatars of an ideology that seeks to destroy historic districts. Spend a few minutes with the Village Preservation report here to see that these rezonings will cause permanent damage while failing to deliver the promised affordable housing. The rezoning will only uglify the area, overscale it, exacerbate gentrification, displace at-risk families at the Chinatown borders, and deliver excessive profits to developers like Edison Properties.

I also mourn the rezoning that might have been. When I founded Tribeca Trust, we residents dreamed of extending the boundaries of our historic districts to give future generations beautiful, contextual infill buildings that would reconnect our neighborhoods in three areas where they were broken off from each other. Tribeca, Noho, Soho, Chinatown, and the Village used to make one continuous human-scale cityscape. It is in those broken zones of these intersecting historic districts that the city now wants glassy towers, which will disconnect us all the more. It is a special kind of tragedy when the city chips away at our city, killing off its beauty in a steady, incremental, death by a thousand cuts.

But if you still have a bit of the dreamer in you, help stop this rezoning. Pressure your City Councilmember to oppose it. That’s true for whatever neighborhood you are in, anywhere in the city. Because after this, the gang responsible for this rezoning is coming for your neighborhood next.

Ellsworth is founder of Tribeca Trust, Friends of Duane Park and Humanscale City NYC

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