Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mary Spink

During the rezoning of the East Village, many supporters of the plan expressed their disagreement with me, often caustically. Mary only once confronted me on it.

She didn't defend her view, she didn't attack mine. She didn't mention the rezoning at all. Taking a step back, turning to me, she tossed her head up, staring right at me as if accusing, "I know what you're doing" she said. I braced for the worst. "You're standing for what you believe," and, as if she were ordering me around, "you're going to fight, you're going to fight for your principles. That's what you're doing."

We all already knew the issues. We all already knew our differences. We all already knew where we stood, and we all already knew why. What else was there to say?

Those were the best and smartest words anyone ever said to me during the rezoning of the East Village.
After the rezoning was implemented, I went to the Community Board in support of a social service building that Mary was planning on my block. I was the only local person who spoke. A few weeks later, she told me that that support was useful at the Borough President's review. She was immensely happy about it, and I was gratified to have played some part, however small. So she invited me to her annual award ceremony. And that's how I got to see a bit of what she had created. It was kind of wonderful -- especially the educational awards, encouraging young adults to succeed in college -- what Mary accomplished.

At the memorial, held at the Great Hall of Cooper Union, with a good few hundred in attendance, it was clear that she inspired many with the same sentiments as mine: I respected her, I admired her, I liked her a lot, and I will miss her.

Friday, January 06, 2012

NYU opposition without a plan

The opposition to NYU's current plan to build on its own campus works well for Community District 2, but not so well for the East Village and the Lower East Side. Most of Community District 2 is landmarked by varioius historic district designations and can't be developed, so if NYU's plan is defeated, NYU can't then turn to other sites around the campus to build. But they could build in Community District 3, the Lower East Side, the East Village and the Bowery, even in Chinatown. Although the recent EV/LES rezoning limits development in much of the area, the Bowery is open, and there are generous bulk allowances on Houston Street, Avenue D and Chrystie Street.

The opposition to the NYU plan points out that the financial district, Community District 1, would welcome NYU development. But no one has identified any specific sites, and no money or incentives have been offered.

To prevent NYU development in Community District 3, there must be more than just vague gestures towards the financial district. Community District 3 leadership has got to go up the ladder of authority and broker a deal with Albany -- the state legislature gives large sums for private universities, so the legislature has some leverage already, and the state can offer all kinds of incentives as well. That goes for the city too, in the form of real estate tax breaks.

Defeating NYU's plan won't curtail NYU's growth. NYU, unlike Columbia, doesn't have a huge endowment. It relies on tuition. In order to maintain the quality of its faculty and its research facilities, they draw an increasing student tuition base. So opposing any particular NYU plan is futile. It's setting a cat for every mousehole or pressing on every bubble only to watch it pop up nearby. The only solution to NYU is finding a solution for NYU.

Having said all that, I find the railing against NYU surprising. Hasn't NYU already transformed the commercial character and the residential demographic of the EV? Is there anything left to lose to NYU? NYU has already wrought its worst on real estate values and rents. What is the complaint against them? They are, on the whole, much more agreeable than the yuppies. They party less and they have more intellectual curiosity. What are East Villagers protecting? Look around. Even the hipsters are gone. 

There remains in the LES some affordable housing. That's the only piece of the community worth fighting for. Beyond that, there's only landmarking, and landmarking is just memorializing the past, not the present of the community. It's the museum of the LES.