Requests from Your Constituents.
This petition had 154 supporters
Mayor de Blasio, Ms. James, Members of the Administration,
We are New Yorkers not affiliated by any interest other than a love for our city and a concern about the problems we outline below. This petition is our effort to draw your attention to some pressing issues that we hope you will address immediately. Before getting into that, we would like to say congratulations on your inauguration and thank you for volunteering to lead our city.
New York City’s history and culture are unrivaled anywhere. This city has been the site of historical moments, proud and shameful, from the earliest settlements to the American Revolution and early days of the Republic, to the Draft Riots and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, to pivotal events in World War II to the present. New York has fostered the development of multiple genres of music and served as a base and muse to countless authors and actors. The original melting pot, New York is a place where immigrants land and become Americans, and yet, paradoxically, their cultures continue to thrive. Our city’s unique culture, the blend of all these things simmering here for four centuries, is recognized around the world. In our beloved and beautiful city, we all take part in democratic and indispensable activities that are New York – we sit shoulder to shoulder in diners, bagel shops, pizza joints, ethnic restaurants of all kinds, subway cars, places of worship, parks, and museums. New York’s streets, its places, are the physical manifestations of its fascinating and multi-layered history and culture, the apex of that dream of equality on which our nation was founded.
Your predecessor’s administration did unthinkable violence to the fabric of our city’s culture and history. His autocratic greed-driven policies favored ultra-wealthy developers at the expense of the working and middle classes, communities as a whole, and fundamentally, the very essence of New York’s democratic culture. While furthering his vision of this city as something that it is not, an elite playground, he ignored, neglected, and even targeted, segments of its population and venerable aspects of its culture. During his two democratically-elected terms and his third term, he allowed developers to destroy thousands of local, unofficial landmarks. Due to skyrocketing rents and fines, local businesses throughout the city closed and were replaced by hundreds of banks and chain stores. In this atmosphere of greed and avarice, other values and human qualities such as the continuity of meaning in place, local culture, and the well-being of communities, were pushed off the agenda in favor of profit for a small group of developers and furtherance of the interests of his very narrow constituency – those who buy the “luxury product.”
These short-sighted policies destroy communities and undermine the root reasons people flock to New York. People come here to be part of this city’s unique culture. We need to save this. We need to examine what makes New York New York. Then, we need to focus on values that have been neglected for years.
To that end, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are calling on you to enact the following policies:
1. Revamp the landmarks designation process. Initiate an immediate presumption that buildings over 75 years old will be landmarked. Make developers fight to destroy our history and culture, not the other way around. The current process ensures that only the most unique buildings and/or those located in wealthy pockets of the city are likely to be preserved. If this seems too extreme, consider the fact that many other cities, such as London, already do this. Those who support “development” (e.g. narrow greed) will argue that this will stifle growth. Far from it, it will provide a legal enshrining of existing cultural values. Take one small example. In August, the 97-year-old church of St. Mary Help of Christians was destroyed in order to make way for a development. On what planet is this not a crime? If destroying this church was not too far, if destroying St. Vincent’s was not too far, where do we draw the line? Really, what is not for sale? We know you understand this. Buildings are the physical manifestations of our collective memory. They help to place us as individuals and communities in context of history, grounding us in a continuity of meaning, and providing a sense of place within which we can conduct our affairs. They should not be treated as mere brick and mortar because they contain far more than that. Here, in this most important of world cities, they truly contain the hopes and dreams of humanity cast upon these shores.
2. Protect small businesses. There are many ways to do this. Some suggest rent control, while others suggest simply removing the many burdens imposed by over-regulation, such as excessive fines. Other policies that could be implemented would include removing incentives for larger “box stores” and banks to take up New York’s iconic street-level storefront retail space. At the same time, the city could begin to incentivize certain types of businesses and activities. Proponents of the current policies suggest that small businesses would survive if they could keep up with market rates. However, this is incorrect. First off, no market is completely free and without regulation. Regulation is used to encourage society’s values and principles. Second, developers cynically point to a free market when they have engineered laws to benefit themselves and their interests. They have stacked the deck in their favor. A far more free market existed before your predecessor, but it didn't favor all-out development. Developers hated the free market and had the laws changed to suit them. It is through regulations that your predecessor’s administration systematically destroyed old-time small businesses in New York. Look around – these places are closing right and left. Why? Are the tables empty? NO! It’s because landlords are raising rents by tens of thousands of dollars. This has hit typical New York businesses such as pizza joints, bagel shops, diners, bodegas, and many other “mom and pop” locally-owned and run businesses very hard. Frequently and unacceptably, this has meant the shuttering of decades-to-century old businesses. We have a lot more bank locations and chain shops now than we did fifteen years ago – and a lot fewer of our local places. Again, why do people come here? To see a Citibank in a 40-story building? OR, to eat NY pizza and bagels in their traditional setting? There are many ways your administration could help to restore balance to New York’s previously-thriving local businesses. Again, you know.
3. Affordable housing – without a strong middle class, there will be no more New York. We are the descendants of the workers who built this city and the future of the new immigrants whose families are currently fighting to get a foothold in this city/nation. This city’s socioeconomic diversity has long been its biggest strength. Mandate extensions to Mitchell-Lama, 80/20, and rent control. Stop the privatization of buildings such as Peter Cooper Village. This is a simple matter of justice and common sense if we hope to maintain socioeconomic diversity in our city. Again, there will be opposition to these forward-thinking policies from people who stand not to gain as much profit. Again, New York’s diversity is its strength. It goes without saying that new 80/20 developments should not be divided into “rich/poor” sections. Do whatever you can to preserve this.
4. Stop plans to destroy vibrant communities and special industries and places such as Willets Point, the South Street Seaport, Harlem, and Music Row/48th Street, among others. With regards to Music Row, for example, seriously consider the wisdom of allowing the destruction of such a culturally-significant landmark. We request that you immediately enjoin the destruction of these buildings and that you put in place a plan to encourage music-related businesses to put these buildings back to use in that industry. Yes, the property is valuable, but the meaning of this place is more valuable than anything else. Doing this would mark an immediate and profound sea change. Other such unique places have already been destroyed. Your predecessor wielded mayoral power like a tyrant to force policies that were antithetical to true democracy and the free market. For instance, he moved the oldest continually-operating market in the city, the Fulton Fish Market, from its historical location to a different borough. Why? Was there a public outcry for this? Why are the small business at Willets Point being closed and the land being given to a shopping mall? We would understand if this area were being turned into a senior center, a school, a library, or a hospital. But, why are we using government power to take from the poor and give to the rich? Many of your predecessor’s policies ran directly counter to the will of the city’s long-term residents and its poor and middle classes. Rather than hear what these people were saying, he surrounded himself with “yes-men” who encouraged counterintuitive and counterproductive initiatives.
5. We recommend that you conduct an exhaustive review of what makes New York communities unique and use your power as mayor to counteract the destruction your predecessor wrought on this great city. Immediately halt any and all projects that his administration approved such as the eminent domain taking of Willets Point. Who does this profit and why? On a smaller scale, look into projects such as the proposed destruction of Ruppert Park, only blocks from your new home. The community does not want this small park to be destroyed. Why should a developer be allowed to do so? The previous administration favored the narrow interest of money. We need the public interest to be reintroduced to decision-making in this city immediately. Consider that in this recent environment, Central Park would never have come into existence. One way to explore what we want and need in this city would be to look at what existed before 2001. If it existed before, whether it was a restaurant or a building, bring it back, if possible. Imagine any other city with the heritage, history, and culture of New York allowing this level of destruction. It borders on criminal. Recent blog posts have put forth near-comprehensive city-wide lists of buildings and businesses destroyed from 2001 to 2013. In addition to the well-known places in these lists, there have been many smaller local closures as well as the demolition of thousands of 19th century buildings. Across the board, the reason is money. We have allowed money to be prioritized over all other values. Is this our decision?
6. Many other great cities mark the places where important things have happened. We recommend the city undertake to mark sites of cultural and historic importance. Note where George Washington lived on the day he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States. Mark Tin Pan Alley – a place that is barely noted on any map, but which contributed to the development of American music. Mark culturally-significant places throughout the city. Note the somber as well - where draft rioters brutally attacked African American children, where German-Americans fought one another over fascism. Note where famous authors and musicians lived in New York. Some of these are already marked. And, there is no harm in private organizations and interests marking places that are uniquely important to their causes, however, the city itself should take an interest in this. Use your power as mayor to mark these places and protect them. They are interesting and valuable to us now. They will be even more so in one hundred years. Moreover, they put our present day into the context of the ever-evolving continuity of events and put New York, its places, and people into their context within broader scope of world culture. By connecting these dots, people would be far more inclined to protect them as the cultural gems they are. These places are central to collective memory.
There is an old adage that New York is always changing. This is true. It has always changed. And, it has historically seen some of the worst greed ever. However, the nature of the change changed during your predecessor’s reign. Never before have we seen that greed go so unbalanced by human values. Our argument is that the change should benefit all New Yorkers and the many who come here – whether temporarily or permanently – to experience, enjoy, and give back to this place. New Yorkers from all walks of life who are upset by what we see as the systemic and systematic destruction of our city’s unique cultural and historical monuments and living institutions in favor of a very narrow and dubious individual profit call on you to look at what makes this city unique - across the board from its geography to its cultural and history - and to act by preserving those places and encouraging those activities that make New York New York. Chief among these - give local businesses a break, encourage socioeconomic diversity in housing, and stop the destruction of our historical and cultural landmarks.
We all have stories about our favorite places that have closed and our local landmarks that have been demolished simply to profit unscrupulous individuals and groups. There are literally thousands of examples from your predecessor’s long twelve years. Yet, this city has weathered the storm. Ladies and Gentlemen, look at what's unique and important and foster that. This city is at a turning point. If we do not intervene to save its soul, we should just call this place “city” and forget its name and history. You can save what's special about this city. To the extent that we are able to bring back businesses driven out of business by astronomically-risen rents, we should. Do away with the many burdens on small businesses and require landlords to reinstate tenants who were forced out. In cases where businesses closed recently, it would not be an insurmountable challenge to bring these places back to life. In these cases, institutional knowledge is still recent enough. A creative program of incentives could allow for this to happen. New Yorkers by the thousands bemoan the loss of our local living cultural institutions. We would surely flock back to places that have gone away if they were to be revitalized. We never stopped going in the first place. The closure of many of these places marked an unnatural break in business. History can serve as a model. After World War II, many communities throughout Europe stood over the ruins of their cities and had the choice of how to rebuild. Many bounced back from the destruction of their cultural and historical businesses and place. Although we have not survived a war, what has happened to this city is in many ways a parallel. A very powerful force of greed rolled through New York and rolled over a lot. It is now time for New Yorkers to reclaim our city. We look at travesties in history and when stock is taken this period will be viewed as a true crime. One might look at the systemic destruction of cultural legacy as a form of cleansing.
Mayor de Blasio, Ms. James, and members of the administration, it is time for us to say no to developers and to say yes to the other values that are important in our society – things that benefit the community as a whole and that are true to this city’s central importance in world heritage. Remember that this is the place onto which millions cast their hopes. That their legacy has been sold and cannibalized is a travesty. That travesty can now be corrected. You have the opportunity to save New York’s culture and history.
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