In districts throughout the City, the Rights Here project is asking people three simple questions:
– what place or building in the neighborhood means a lot to you and why? – are there things that you don’t like about what gets built in the neighborhood? – if you were to project 10 years from now and change anything, what would it be?
Here are some views from St George, on the North Shore of Staten Island – in Council District 49.
In Bella Giornata Luncheonette – known locally as Mike’s place – teacher Tracey and one of her students, Miriam, were getting their breakfast.
On places that mean a lot in the neighborhood, “can I do two?!” asked Tracey. “The theater is amazing…with the famous people that come here. And here, Mike’s place. This is the only place we eat, this is where we come for breakfast, lunch, whatever. The people are friendly, the place is absolutely clean, the food is outrageous.”
Tracey says that changes she’d like to see include making the nearby park safer for kids to play, and more places for children down by the waterfront – the center that used to be there was destroyed in hurricane Sandy.
Nearby, Kenya was buying food from a vendor who has been in the neighborhood for years. The theater – which was recently refurbished – was the first place that she mentioned as well, describing how she knew of a couple who had met each other there. The neighborhood’s growing, and she says there’s a need for more roads to accommodate the increasing traffic.
Joy Ghigliotti opened Hypno-Tronics Comics in 2013, with her late partner Ed Varuolo. The store’s first on her list of places in the neighborhood that mean a lot to her – “it’s the best store in the World!”
“And St George theater is awesome,” she adds, “it’s really cool that they refurbished it lovingly.”
Hypno-Tronics’ tagline is “giving tourists a reason to leave the Ferry Terminal since 2013”. Joy sees the city missing a real opportunity.
“You have a built in tourist attraction, the Staten Island ferry. Thousands of tourists take this every day just to get a view of the Statue of Liberty. How do you not have anything here? It boggles my mind. I’d change it so we actually have attractions and things down here.” Joy would have welcomed the wheel if it had come. The plan for a giant ferris wheel ended in October 2018 after six years of plans, due to legal issues and battles over funding.
One of the ads on the shiny new electronic stands at Hudson Yards assures us that Wells Fargo and Hudson Yards are “shaping New York’s Future Together.” Wells Fargo is the “preferred bank” of the $25 billion development that opened last week on Manhattan’s West side.
walk around Hudson Yards immediately puts many of our rights into question. For
The right to privacy
As people move around Hudson Yards, Related, the projects’ main developer, is collecting data about their movements. It will hold the data indefinitely. The electronic towers like the one with the Wells Fargo ad have interactive screens on the side, with tiny cameras installed. Jay Cross, President of Related Hudson Yards has said in a Real Deal interview that so far the primary use of the cameras is to convey information back to advertisers:
“We can say how many people looked at this ad, for how long. Did they seem interested, bored, were they smiling?”
That could just be the start of it, with Related able to share the data to third parties. “We can do what we want with our data,” Cross adds.
The rights to
participation and to public space
Forget about it! With significant State-level involvement, there were not the usual City-based checks and balances to make sure that development projects take local, public needs into account. As Samuel Stein, author of “Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State” puts it, Hudson Yards is the “ultimate example of real estate-driven urban planning.”
Beyond the lack of community input on the process of developing Hudson Yards, is the fact that it is a development shamelessly targeted at a super-wealthy minority. New York Times’ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman wrote:
“It is, at heart, a supersized suburban-style office park, with a shopping mall and a quasi-gated condo community targeted at the 0.1 percent.”
In many people’s minds, New York is associated with an image of chaotic, diverse streets and sidewalks. The sidewalks are places of spontaneous interaction – at times messy, often challenging and fraught with contention – but public interaction all the same.
Hudson Yards, with its concrete spaces surrounded by flat glass walls, destroys the idea of the street.
Ironically, Thomas Heatherwick, the architect of the “Vessel” (aka the “shawarma”) sees it as a “building extension of the public space”. He has described the twisting staircases as an opportunity for an “unspoken choreography as you see each other”. But through the lenses of selfie-taking, instagramming cameras, Vessel visitors don’t see each other, in fact it’s almost as if they don’t see themselves.
At the time of the opening, Related’s terms of service gave the right to all photos taken on the Vessel to the company – a policy it only tweaked after a public outcry.
The right to adequate housing
New York City is in the midst of a housing crisis, with over 60,000 people homeless each night, and increasing numbers of New Yorkers displaced from neighborhoods as they are unable to afford the rent. Hudson Yards – originally conceived by the Bloomberg administration following New York City’s unsuccessful Olympics bid – prioritized luxury apartments from the outset. Penthouses at Hudson Yards are going for $14 million and more, while only 1,300 apartments in the fully-completed complex will be subsidized at any level.
The right to
The 100% male and largely white line-up for the launch day says so much about the demographics of who calls the shots at Hudson Yards and who will reap the benefits.
The line-up conveyed a clear message, that this project is not by nor for the majority of New Yorkers.
Freedom of association
In 2018, Related began using non-union contractors on the Hudson Yards project, almost unheard of for major Manhattan developments. The building and construction trades council launched the “CountMeIn” campaign to fight back, but the Related move had stoked divisions between unions. Related reached a deal with the trades council conveniently right before launch day, hailing a “new model of collaboration”, and leaving many of the rank and file union members feeling betrayed.
Bennett Kremen, a member of Pipeliners Local 798 reportedly said: “Seeing this tragic betrayal of the ‘Count Me In’ movement now explains exactly why the great American labor movement and our struggling democracy are dying.”
At an event at the 92Y that coincided with the Hudson Yards opening day, New York magazine’s editor at large Carl Swanson said: “I guess it reflects a kind of new international style”.
True…an international style that’s recognizable from Dubai, to Singapore, to new cities mimicking Dubai that are popping up across Africa.
However much the Hudson Yards developers and beneficiaries might like to believe this is a valid future they are creating, it’s an unsustainable one. The fight for the right to the city is alive and well in new York, as it is in so many cities.
Last night, organizations from across the five boroughs gathered to call on elected officials to make the vision of a Green New Deal for New York City a reality: reducing emissions from buildings, transitioning to renewable energy and more.
The new 2019 report by the New York City Panel on Climate Change features community-based assessments of adaptation and equity that are led by grassroots organizations in Harlem, Hunts Point and Sunset Park.
The book lays bare the workings of the “real estate state”, especially as it relates to New York City. It also sheds light on the way in which city planners are caught between a motivation to make cities better for the public, and the demands of the market to inflate real estate values. Real estate is now a $217 trillion dollar industry, forming sixty percent of global assets.
Real estate interests have always had significant sway over the shape of cities, Stein acknowledges. What’s new is the extent of the sector’s influence over the political process, as other sectors like manufacturing have declined.
Along with this trend, homeownership in the US has declined and the cost of renting has gone up. The rent burden – the percentage of income that tenants put towards their housing – is now an average of 44 percent in black neighborhoods and 48 percent in Latino neighborhoods.
At a recent book launch event Stein and speakers from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx discussed the implications of the real estate state in New Yorkers’ daily lives – in neighborhoods from Mott Haven to Crown Heights – and what’s needed to challenge processes of gentrification.
While there is no silver bullet, Stein writes, urban social movements can take the lead in diagnosing the problems, organizing for state action to address them and imagining alternatives. And they must bring planners along.
There’s a strong sense that momentum is building.
Raquel Namuche of Ridgewood Tenants Union said she has drawn energy from the powerful local mobilization, led by women of color, that confronted Amazon over its plans for a second headquarters in Long Island City.
Esteban Girón of Crown Heights Tenants Union highlighted the very real chance that New York State will pass groundbreaking rent reforms this year, with the new make-up of the Senate that is more representative of tenants’ needs. “The answer for me is the rent laws,” he said. “Universal rent control, end the vacancy bonus and vacancy de-control, and make preferential rents permanent…just to start with.”
This growing State-level advocacy encourages Stein. He recognizes the challenges in building a strong movement of tenants – despite their huge numbers – that unifies across different housing types, and different challenges.
“Making sure that upstate and downstate issues don’t get treated differently, that we don’t do something that helps homeowners who are struggling to hold onto their homes but do nothing for tenants or homeless people…to make sure that it’s all dealt with is really hard to do,” says Stein. “It’s going to take a lot of power and mobilization, but it’s heartening to see it coming together.”