Thursday, November 19, 2009

Seducing Shelly Silver

Following up on the this little comment exchange in the Lo-down's article about CB3's ongoing troubles planning for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area --the large tract of undeveloped land along the south side of Delancey Street that has been left vacant for forty years while Sheldon Silver, who lives nearby among his most loyal constituents, continues to block any development:

the way to Sheldon Silver's heart is through his loyal voters. Bring the Grand Street community to the table and you may be able to sway the old man's mind. He'll still be wary of building housing that will bring to his district new voters with no loyalty to him, but if you give him a leadership role in creating the housing in SPURA and spin him as the hero, he might feel ready to go for it.

The Grand Street residents want to add a little spice to their neighborhood, a little action. A movie house, a theater, a sports complex, a few cafes, a couple of bars and restaurants would add value to their real estate. Right now the place has all the charm of a sprawling assisted living facility. Find out what they want and see if you can create it for them and still get what you want too in the deal.


Anonymous said...

Well said, and almost not condescending to these strange creatures who are clearly alien to you - the Grand Street residents. Movie theater? Eh, we had one on the Grand Street strip near the Bialy place (don't know if this was before your time here.) Sunshine is close enough. Cafes and restaurants - come on, surely we have enough within striking distance. Excitement is not what many of us want. We want *something* and but we don't want it to be public housing, or, sorry "affordable" housing or whatever you want to call it.

But then I went to LoDown to read the comments and oh boy, I was blown away by your complete cluelessness regarding the "Grand Street Residents" and their mentality. You said: "He cannot be expected to want his district filled with new voters not loyal to him nor want his loyal voters confronted with a new and unfamiliar community." Think about that for a second. In what possible way would his "loyal voters" be confronted with a new and unfamiliar community? Are you planning to airlift in some Sudanese refugees? Or maybe a Mormon settlement?

The SP/ER Coops ARE SURROUNDED BY PUBLIC HOUSING! We have been our whole lives (for the under 40 set at least) What is so unfamiliar about this? Who are you talking about here? You think living amidst low to middle income people is unfamiliar to the residents of Grand Street, many of whom ARE low to middle income, or used to be?

Your statement has got to be projection of some kind, because the last thing that anyone who grew up around here thinks of NYCHA housing is "unfamiliar." I lived in the Vladecks before moving to Seward Park. Don't forget - until very recently, the Co-ops were strictly middle class housing, and the people moving now aren't blind to why they were able to buy for such low $ per sq foot - they did their research and know where it is they live.

The truth is, this area has as much or more public housing per capita, per square foot, however you want to measure it, than any other area in Manhattan. I am not making this up. So the residents of Grand Street, who are far from dukes and duchesses, well, they are just curious - why put in more? What ever happened to balance? Facilities that benefit the *entire* neighborhood, sure. BTW, people in the project also like "a little excitement" if you haven't noticed. But why more subsidized housing? 80/20 would be fine, but of course, GOLES is pushing for 20/80. Good luck selling that 20.

rob said...

I love this comment and I'm grateful for it -- it's what I hoped for from this blog: honest opinion without rancor (and with humor). It's also what I think is missing from the SPURA deliberations -- contributions from "Grand Street residents."

Nevertheless I question a few assumptions in it. You treat low-income housing as if it were some kind of burden that one can have too much of, that requires balance with upscale housing. Not everything requires balance: are there too many sidewalks surrounding blocks in Manhattan? Should we balance with no sidewalks around some blocks, for people who step from elevator to garage to car? Are there too many streets with trees? Should we balance with treeless sidewalks for the people who like fry eggs on the sidewalks?

There's a hidden assumption here that there's a drawback to low-income housing. What could that drawback be? Is there a drawback to mayonnaise or corn flakes when they're on sale? Is it ipso facto worse mayo when the price is affordable? So the corn flakes wilt in the package when they're on sale? Lowered price is in itself, all other things being equal, a universally acknowledged good -- otherwise stores wouldn't use discounts to attract customers.

The rhetorical coyness of "they are just curious" shows that you know the hidden premise. If you ask me, I can't see anything wrong with the idea of low-income housing in itself. Badly designed low-income housing is bad, but so is badly designed upscale housing. It's not the "low-income" that entails the bad design.

I don't know what GOLES is pushing for -- I'll let them speak for themselves -- but I see nothing wrong with pushing for low-income housing wherever possible. I do know what developers push for: upscale housing. So I think it's actually important to push for low-income housing wherever possible.

And I notice in your list of local amenities you fail to mention bars. The lack of bars speaks volumes. Who was it from Grand Street who suggested to me that the neighborhood would gladly accept a bit of the bar activity from the EV?

The slim choice of restaurants and cafes says the same -- in this regard the neighborhood is just like any "housing project" and shows clearly what SPURA should not become. How to plan an organic neighborhood? There's a challenge.

To me this planning process is not about low-income vs upscale; it's about how to "plan" a truly integral, organic urban New York environment. Affordable, it goes without saying, is more desirable than unaffordable. Unless there's something else about affordability that's troubling you.

Anonymous said...

"There's a hidden assumption here that there's a drawback to low-income housing."

The assumption is not hidden, but the drawback is more specifically to too much low-income housing in one place. It is no longer particularly controversial that lumping large amounts of only low income residents in large high-rises is terrible urban policy. Yet the above sentence perfectly describes the LES east of Essex. The key to a successful (a loaded term of course) neighborhood is true economic diversity. Diversity is relative, of course. The LES has one of the highest low income populations in Manhattan - additional low income housing should be built - but not where there is already too much of it. It's bad for everyone.

I'm sure you know all about Cabrini in Chicago. They had to take that thing apart eventually:

Putting more low income housing next to the biggest chunk of it south of 96th street isn't just "bad for" the middle class grand street residents - it's also "bad for" the existing low income residents in the neighborhood. Trust me, most of them would rather have a couple of extra restaurants that they can't afford rather than more crime.

That lower income folks are disproportionately responsible for violent crime, is of course, also not controversial, nor should this statement be interpreted as an expression of some kind of crypto-racism. The victims, of course, are largely other low income folks, so there's not even much of a class warfare element here either.

Another thought - public housing residents don't see their rent go up as neighborhoods gentrify, so they don't even have to worry about being priced out. They only have everything to gain - cleaner, safer streets, since city services are inevitably stepped up as wealthier residents move in (unfair but true.) Schools will get better as upper middle class families send their children to the local public schools. Etc, etc.

That's public housing - all well and good. We should have it for people who are too old or sick to make a living. A different analysis applies to "affordable housing" which is code for laws and regulations that tell private parties how much rent to charge. This stuff is a lot more controversial. My personal opinion is that people should either pay market rent, (in whatever area they can afford to do so) or, if they can't afford to pay for their shelter, they should live in public housing, and that everything in between heavily distorts the market and does a lot more harm than good. But reasonable people can disagree.

Anonymous said...

Here's another thing you might find interesting:

rob said...

Read the article on Chicago carefully. The problem with housing projects was not the concentration of poverty but the rationalized, anti-urban setting: huge towers bereft of commercial vitality, creating vast enclaves of emptiness.

Low-income neighborhoods become depressed neighborhoods if there are no storefronts to attract street traffic. Commerce is not the only key to a thriving neighborhood. Cultural vitality also helps, as do well-designed recreational facilities.

None of this is easy to accomplish. Usually it happens organically as a community grows into an urban setting. Success often depends on accidents of the landscape. Even a well-planned open-air recreational area can fail completely if it doesn't have enough light and space to attract a variety of age groups and activities. Tompkins Square Park and Columbus Park are models of successful recreational use and should be carefully studied in the planning for SPURA.

Chinatown is a largely low-income neighborhood that is not at all a depressed neighborhood. All the 5-6 story tenements have two storefronts at the ground level and there is commerce everywhere and lively street traffic.

Chinatown has had its troubles -- gangs were once an overwhelming problem. But the gang problem receded *without any change in the demographic or income level of the community.*

As for rent regulations, you should take a look at the Manhattan Institute's study of the deregulation of Boston rents. They found that rent regulations did not inflate the market rate: when rents were deregulated, rents rose to the market rate and the market rate did not fall.

Market rate is not determined by supply only, but by an interaction between shortage, cost of new development, willingness to pay (location) and ability to pay. There are a lot of people who would accept high rents to live in Manhattan, but would prefer to live in a green suburb than in Queens. If housing becomes available in Manhattan, they will pay for it, sustaining the market rate.

In other words, rent regulations protect long-term residents and the integrity of the community without influencing the market rate. Rent regulations allow long-term renters to occupy space that people living in the suburbs would otherwise occupy. That's unfortunate for the suburban dwellers who'd like to move into desirable parts of the city, but it's good for existing communities in the city and for the urban mix.

Your City Limits link didn't work.