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Speak Out: Fight for New York

I have always believed that you need to be a part of your time and involved in the issues of the day. I was very disappointed with last week’s low voter turnout in Citywide elections. On the other hand, I am also disappointed that engaged citizens have had such little impact on three important proposals: Upzoning SoHo and NoHo, State plans for enormous development around Penn Station, and the redevelopment of East River Park.

The City Council hearing on SoHo and NoHo is tomorrow. Read our testimony. After a clear message from residents and businesses that protecting the historic character of the area is vital, after thoughtful alternatives that would produce affordable housing without damaging the historic character, and after pleas from residents to address numerous quality of life issues, the City’s plan has barely changed. Will the Council make real improvements?

Despite lofty pronouncements, the City’s plan is just another real estate deal to allow out-of-scale development. Citizens stopped Robert Moses from destroying SoHo and NoHo. Unfortunately, Mayor de Blasio may succeed. Email these Council members and tell them to vote “NO” on upzoning SoHo and NoHo.

Governor Hochul lopped a bit off Governor Cuomo’s mega plan for giant towers around Penn Station. But even a real estate blog described this slightly smaller version as “audacious.”

Illustration: SoHo Historic District Proposal: Brown areas show how tall the buildings could be on Broadway under the City’s upzoning – PKSB Architects

The State is still determined to take over a large swath of Midtown, encourage as much office space as Hudson Yards, and ignore the City’s public review process. Here, too, alternative proposals for improving Penn Station have been ignored. The silence from local elected officials about this State intrusion is dismaying.

The City plans to rebuild East River Park in the name of resiliency have garnered mixed reviews. Some residents don’t want to lose the current park, which has been even more of an oasis for neighbors during the pandemic. The Lower East Side Preservation Initiative says it understands the need for floodproofing the park. But they asked that two Art Deco/WPA Moderne buildings be saved and reused. Architect Aymar Embury II decorated them with terra cotta ornament recalling the area’s shipbuilding and maritime heritage. A study we helped underwrite showed that the buildings could be saved and refurbished. But the City plans to destroy them regardless.

I’m upset about all this. But the answer is more public involvement, not less. New Yorkers deserve a say in how the City evolves. The buildings and neighborhoods that define our City deserve protection. We all need to get out there. New York is worth fighting for.

With best wishes from all of us for your health and safety,

Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy

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