Traditional recipes

Greenmarket to Gotham: A New Look at Union Square’s Greenmarket

Greenmarket to Gotham: A New Look at Union Square’s Greenmarket

Chef Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill will release a cookbook based on the Union Square Greenmarket

Alfred Portale has served as an icon for the New York culinary world, and so has Union Square’s Greenmarket Farmers Market, so it only seems suiting that Portale would write a cookbook about the famous market. With hundreds of farmers and thousands of customers per day, the Greenmarket is one of the largest in the world.

Eater reports that Portale expects to release a cookbook on June 21 called Greenmarket to Gotham, which is said to have 12 different chapters and 36 original recipes highlighting a different farm from the market. The book will also offer menus inspired by Union Square’s Greenmarket, along with the vegetarian-friendly recipes from Gotham Bar and Grill that many have come to know and love. Along with lots of cooking, there will also be wine pairings by Gotham’s wine director, Eric Ziller.

Portale plans to donate ten percent of sales to GrowNYC, a New York-based charity used to improve the environment through various methods of educational programs. The book is available for pre-sale for $22.00 through Haute Press.


I am a creature of the city I was born in. Although my parents contributed, it was the city&mdashwith its vibrancy, diversity, challenges, and choices, along with its sights, smells, and sounds&mdashthat raised me and shaped my urban sensibility. Our move to a Connecticut suburb shaped me also. It gave me a taste of another way of life, one that sharpened my urban sensibility. Mine is a New York tale, but more than that, my family story parallels that of millions of Americans and illustrates patterns of social change that altered the face of American cities, not just New York.

My parents were both the children of immigrants, both born and raised in Brooklyn, enthralled by the American dream as defined in the early decades of the last century. I was the first of my family to be born in Manhattan, a tremendous achievement for my parents&rsquo generation, as moving from Brooklyn to Manhattan was a mark of accomplishment.

My father was in the dry-cleaning business, first learning the business by working for someone else, then opening his own store with money borrowed from the family circle, and expanding that business into a small chain of four stores in Greenwich Village. 1 This pattern of entrepreneurial evolution was typical of new immigrants and their children. It still is. One can observe this happening, particularly in immigrant neighborhoods, in cities everywhere. Borrowing from the &ldquofamily circle&rdquo or &ldquocommunity network&rdquo has always been the first step in new immigrant business formations. My family was no exception. Conventional banks are an intimidating, alien experience and not usually welcoming to immigrants.

The main store was on Eighth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, then the primary shopping street of Greenwich Village. The plant, where garments from all four stores were cleaned, was on West Third Street, around the corner from where we lived. When I was very young, my mother worked there with my father while my older sister and I were in school. My mother enrolled in a decorating course at NYU (neither of my parents had been to college) and eventually became a professional interior decorator (today she would be called an &ldquointerior designer&rdquo). She developed an active career gaining clients through word of mouth.

We lived in a spacious apartment on the sixth floor of a twelve-story building on the south side of Washington Square Park with windows overlooking the park. My mother could keep an eye on me when I played in the park or beckon me if I overstayed my playtime. Roller skating, jumping rope, swinging a leg over a bouncing Spaldeen to the &ldquoA My Name Is Alice&rdquo game, and trading-card games against walls of buildings were favorite pastimes. 2 Others played stoopball, stickball, curb ball, and many more. The variety of kids&rsquo games on the sidewalks and streets of the city is infinite. The vitality that this street activity represented, under the watchful eyes of parents and neighbors, was often misinterpreted as slum conditions.

Television was not yet affordable for my family, but I had a friend on the twelfth floor who enjoyed that luxury. Every Tuesday night, I would visit her to watch Uncle Miltie (Milton Berle). Occasionally, I also got to watch Sid Caesar&rsquos Show of Shows or, just as exciting, Ed Sullivan. I even saw the show on which he introduced the Beatles.

I walked seven or eight blocks to school played freely and endlessly in the park listened to folk singers who gathered regularly at the Circle (the local name for the big circular fountain) traveled uptown to museums, theaters, and modern dance lessons and shopped Fourteenth Street for inexpensive everyday clothes and Fifth Avenue uptown for the occasional more expensive special purchases.

On Christmas Eve, my parents, my sister, and I would take the Fifth Avenue bus up to Fifty-ninth Street (Fifth Avenue was two-way then) and stroll down to Thirty-fourth Street to enjoy the exuberant Christmas windows of the department stores. While all the department stores competed to produce the most artful window displays, Lord & Taylor always won hands down Saks Fifth Avenue and B. Altman alternated for second place. Even the few banks and airline offices then on Fifth Avenue put on a good display. Then we would take the bus the rest of the way downtown and join carolers singing at the huge Christmas tree under the Washington Square Arch. It was a great tradition. The city was a delightful place to be in the 1940s and 1950s.

1.1 My apartment house and block on Washington Square South before condemnation. NYU Archives.

1.1a NYU&rsquos Bobst Library replaced my block. Jared Knowles.


Two things led my family to move to Westport, Connecticut, then a paradigm of suburbia. Opportunity beckoned my father. The first strip shopping center, with the area&rsquos first branch of a New York City department store, had opened in Westport. Like in so many downtowns across America, this one was a short distance from downtown, enough to draw business away. Across from that, only minutes from Main Street, a second was about to open. The builder of the second center wanted to include a dry-cleaning store. He wanted my father to be the one to do it.

Strip centers across America of that time imitated city shopping streets and actually repackaged in a planned version the successful commercial mix that evolved spontaneously on urban streets. Developers went by a formula that included a mixture of service and specialty stores. Thus, the builder wanted a dry cleaner to locate between the supermarket and the baby-clothes store, with the hardware, carpeting, and other stores and the luncheonette to follow down the line. The offer was a hard-to-resist business opportunity for my father.

My father hungered for the appeal of suburban life, but my mother definitely did not and never settled into it happily. &ldquoYou pay a stiff price for that blade of grass,&rdquo she used to say. Nevertheless, opportunity was having an irresistible pulling effect on my father. We made the switch.

My mother resisted the stay-at-home suburban-housewife lifestyle, but she definitely got caught up in the car culture. My father drove a secondhand Chevy station wagon, but my mother&rsquos first car was a red Ford convertible with a V8 engine and stick shift. If she had to be in the suburbs, she wanted a fun car. A few years later, her second car was similar but in white. Both cars were guaranteed boy magnets in the parking lot on the very rare occasion that I was permitted to drive her car to school. For after-school activities, most of the time, I hitchhiked or biked to my destination. My mother refused to be a chauffeur.

While opportunity and suburban living were having a pulling effect on my parents, three negative forces intruded on our balanced urban existence and helped push us over the edge. The Third Street building in which my father&rsquos main &ldquoplant&rdquo (I never knew why it was called a plant) was located was condemned as part of a large urban renewal project, devised by Robert Moses. &ldquoUrban Renewal&rdquo was the federal program that funded the major overhaul of most American cities starting in the 1950s. The plant&rsquos Third Street block was part of the sizable chunk of the South Village&rsquos multifunctional, economically viable urban fabric that was sacrificed for subsidized middle-income apartment houses set in green plazas, namely, Washington Square Village and south of that the Silver Towers designed by I. M. Pei. This area, just north of Houston and the future SoHo, had a similar mix of cast-iron commercial buildings, tenements, small apartment houses, and a few federal houses.

Through urban renewal, New York University, not yet the dominant force in the neighborhood that it has become, acquired our apartment building and let it be known that all tenants eventually would have to move to make way for university expansion. Urban renewal, then as now, helped educational institutions expand campuses through eminent domain, the taking of private property for a loosely defined public purpose. Bobst Library, a hulking sandstone library designed by Philip Johnson, was built on the site.

As if losing our apartment and my father&rsquos plant were not enough, underworld forces were muscling in on small businesses, like my father&rsquos on Eighth Street, making it increasingly difficult for business owners like my father to remain independent. The primary site for Larry Brandes Dry Cleaners was centrally located on Eighth Street, at MacDougal. Eighth Street is the Village&rsquos equivalent to a Main Street.

1.2 &ldquoL. Brandes Cleaners&rdquo was my father&rsquos store on Eighth Street, circa 1930s or 1940s, with delivery truck parked in front. Eighth Street BID.


The combination of Robert Moses Urban Renewal and the underworld shakedowns made our departure inevitable. So we moved to Weston, Connecticut, the neighboring town to Westport. My father, having sold what he could of the business in the city, opened in neighboring Westport one of the first cash-and-carry dry-cleaning stores in a Connecticut shopping center. My sister, Paula, was working for a New York advertising agency, and she created a newspaper campaign that started weeks before the opening, playing on the theme of &ldquocity to suburb.&rdquo

No pick-up and home delivery service was offered in the new store, as had been done in the city, but same-day service and on-site shirt laundering were possible that hadn&rsquot been in his city stores. The store opened in 1953, and I eagerly worked there after school and Saturdays, starting by assembling hangers and eventually waiting on customers.

&ldquoHand-finishing&rdquo (a fancy term for ironing) was a service not usually available in dry-cleaning stores. My father introduced that service in Westport. Katie, a woman who worked in the West Third Street plant, commuted from Harlem to Westport to continue working for my father. He picked her up every morning at the train station. Amazingly as well, two of the pressers, Al and Phil, who lived in Brooklyn&rsquos Bedford-Stuyvesant and also had worked on West Third Street, commuted from the city every day to continue working for my father. They were ardent Brooklyn Dodger fans my father and I were equally ardent Yankee fans. During games&mdashespecially pennants and World Series&mdashthe store was wild with cheers and jeers. Customers came second.

I remember being fascinated at how many customers knew my father from the Village. &ldquoAre you the same Larry Brandes, dry cleaner, that used to be on Eighth Street?&rdquo they would ask. They were former city customers, now new suburbanites seeking the same greener pastures as my father. Greenwich Village residents were moving to Westport. The exodus to the suburbs was gaining momentum. We were witness to and participants in a phenomenon that would change the face of America.

Weston, where we moved to, was a small-town adjunct to the larger, better-known Westport. I went to junior high in Weston but high school in Westport because Weston did not yet have one. My father&rsquos store was in Westport.

My father dreamed of building a year-round house. We had the land. Our summer cottage&mdashno heat or winter insulation&mdashwas on the site. That tiny two-bedroom house was an expression of family creativity. My father built closets, installed windows where only screens had been, and created a small but efficient kitchen. My sister painted Peter Hunt designs on cabinets and closet doors. My mother sewed slipcovers and curtains. I helped &ldquodrip&rdquo paint the floors with my mother and sister à la Jackson Pollock. That cottage was demolished to make room for a year-round split-level house, the popular housing design of the 1950s.

Weston, in the heart of Fairfield County, was one of those idyllic communities where comfortable homes were surrounded by woods, streams, and lawns. A Long Island Sound beach was a short drive. Historic white clapboard farmhouses and similarly redolent colonials dominated the landscape until suburban development overran so much open space in the 1950s and &rsquo60s. Year-round country living appealed to my father. For a boy who grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, learned to dive off piers in New York Harbor, and played stickball in the street, the lure of the lawn, the rose garden, and the swimming pond was irresistible. He planted an apple tree from seed, and every few years I drive by to assure myself it is still there. Taxes were cheap. The public schools were nationally acclaimed. In those days, New York City was only one hour away by train, an hour and a half by car. Both modes of travel to New York City take longer today due to excruciating vehicular traffic and diminished train service.


Model homes were going up around Westport, a great attraction for city residents. Low-interest, federally guaranteed mortgages, new federally funded modern school construction, low taxes, and the allure of home ownership added appeal. I was oblivious to the suburbanization of America then in full swing. But I do remember when the woods and fields where we went horseback riding were lost to a development of split-level homes.

My mother, by then a well-practiced interior decorator, worked for local new home builders, making the insides of the model homes as appealing as the larger idea of moving to suburbia was. The trick of the trade, she told me, was to furnish the model home with diminutive furniture to make the rooms look bigger&mdashsuch as cot-size beds instead of twins, a love seat instead of a full-size sofa, small paintings on the walls. Most of what was going up in and around Westport, as with the rest of suburban America in the 1950s, were split-level homes with the single (only sometimes double) garage and unfinished basement. That unfinished basement was the middle-class sweat-equity opportunity to finish yourself. When we in fact built our own new home to replace the summer cottage, it was a &ldquocustomized&rdquo and enlarged version of that split-level model.

In a nutshell, there it was: many of the urban-suburban issues that would dominate development news for the second half of the last century. They shaped my early life and my journalistic interests later.

We were living the &ldquopush-pull&rdquo effect. People weren&rsquot simply fleeing cities for the suburbs. They were being pulled by the opportunities to buy a home, pay low taxes, open a business, or send kids to brand-new schools. The amenities of the suburbs&mdashthe roads to get there, the low-interest loans to finance homes, the modern schools, the shopping centers to lure city businesses&mdashwere subsidized by the federal and state governments.

No comparable programs were investing in cities. In fact, the reverse was true. Redlining by banks and insurers and blockbusting by realtors precluded the home-ownership dream in most New York neighborhoods and in cities across America. &ldquoWhen I lived in New York,&rdquo Jane Jacobs told me years later, &ldquowe had savings and could borrow from family members to buy a small house in Greenwich Village. We couldn&rsquot get any bank loans. Banks had blacklisted or redlined this area. In America, all sorts of cities that were very viable were redlined. People couldn&rsquot get a loan. We could have gotten a loan very easily to move to the suburbs. There was a lot of social engineering manifested through where money would be lent and wouldn&rsquot be lent, what would be built and wouldn&rsquot be built. People weren&rsquot told they were being socially engineered like this, but they were.&rdquo 3


The push to leave for us and many others was not due to the so-called deteriorating urban conditions popularly blamed for the population shift to the suburbs. We didn&rsquot experience or witness serious crime. And even though young, my sister and I moved around Manhattan alone, by bus, subway, or on foot. I didn&rsquot know how to go outside Manhattan. I did not experience fear, and, obviously, my parents felt comfortable enough letting me go places on my own.

The dramatic push at that time was the push of urban renewal, massive demolition, and disappearing neighborhoods. Banks stopped giving loans for businesses and properties destined to fall under the urban renewal wrecking ball. Businesses like my father&rsquos (and later my husband&rsquos) and residents like my family did not move out simply by choice. It is not difficult to observe how the tear in an urban fabric, regardless of its size, weakens the threads around it so further erosion becomes inevitable. The displacement by a highway, or an urban renewal clearance project, was very much the crux of the push.

Many years later, I reflected with Jane Jacobs about this period&mdashwhen federal funding priorities led to sweeping changes to urban neighborhoods and downtowns. She cautioned me that &ldquothere are two kinds of change, and you can symbolize them on the land,&rdquo she explained. &ldquoThere&rsquos the kind of change in which the topsoil is being built up, and it&rsquos being made more fertile and is good husbandry of the land. The land is changing when you do that, but it is positive change. Then there&rsquos a kind of change that&rsquos just as definitely change&mdashthat&rsquos erosion. Gullies are being dug in the land, and the topsoil is being carried away and it&rsquos being made infertile. The fact that it&rsquos changed doesn&rsquot mean that it&rsquos progress. It&rsquos ruin. But people were, for a long time, brainwashed into the idea that every sort of change in a city was progress. &lsquoWell, yes, it&rsquos bad, but that&rsquos progress.&rsquo No, that&rsquos erosion. And people didn&rsquot want to be thought of as old-fashioned.&rdquo


The transition to the suburbs was not easy. For me it was traumatic. To transfer from a progressive private school in Greenwich Village, the Little Red Schoolhouse, to a conservative public junior high school, Horace C. Hurlbutt Jr., in Weston was, to say the least, a dramatic shift in education and social lifestyle. The educational philosophies were opposite, one quite progressive, the other traditional. I had only learned to print at Little Red now I had to learn to write script, almost overnight, to catch up. I had learned to build tables and make birdhouses in shop at Little Red now I went to &ldquohome ec&rdquo with only girls and learned to bake cakes and make pudding. &ldquoWhy don&rsquot they teach you to cook a piece of meat?&rdquo my mother asked. I was used to wearing blue jeans to school in Weston, the girls not only wore skirts or dresses but had made their clothes themselves.

Outdoor activities were probably better at Weston. In New York, we were limited to a rooftop play area or an asphalt sports field around the corner. We never felt at all deprived. But in Weston, I played basketball, baseball, and archery and&mdashwhat shocks my daughters&mdashbecame a cheer-leader (yes, felt skirts with poodles).

At Little Red, we had talked about big social issues, learned things about the human anatomy no public school dared teach, and even studied comparative religion&mdashChristianity, Judaism, and Islam&mdashand visited different houses of worship. I remember reading a powerful book I think was called One God. It certainly introduced me to the idea of religious diversity and tolerance at an early age. In Weston, we started the day with not only the Pledge of Allegiance but also the Lord&rsquos Prayer, something a private school that believed in separation of church and state would never do.

Our class at Little Red was modestly integrated racially and religiously, but in Weston, very much the Connecticut Yankee suburb, I was the outsider. I was the third Jew in this junior high school, the first from New York City. Most painful was when I had a birthday party that some of my classmates were not allowed to attend because I was Jewish.

Weston didn&rsquot have a high school then, so we all attended Staples High School in Westport. Westport was already on the way to being a less provincial, more cosmopolitan town than Weston, and the high school reflected it. I was not the only New York City transplant, and there were a few other Jews.

I missed New York, however, and my mother missed what New York offered the teenager. My best friend and neighbor was the daughter of my mother&rsquos closest friend, also city transplants. Both mothers happily gave us permission&mdashin fact, encouraged us&mdashto leave school early on an occasional Wednesday and take the train to the city for a Broadway matinee. Saturday excursions for a museum and show were also a regular routine.


Today Westport is well populated with former New Yorkers and home base for a number of substantial businesses, and its main street is chain-store heaven with few of the local stores left. The contrast is dramatic&mdasha condition familiar across America. But in the 1950s and 1960s, Westport was dominated by local merchants with an increasing number of New York writers, artists, and advertising people moving in.

Back then Westport was already considered a highly cosmopolitan New York suburb. With the Westport Country Playhouse, the Famous Artists School (&ldquoFamous Writers&rdquo was added later), and a diverse professional community and host of celebrities, Westport had cachet. Local stars included Paul and Joanne Newman (my father&rsquos customers), Martha Raye, Liza Minelli, Rod Serling (another customer), Kirk Douglas, photographer Milton Greene (with Marilyn Monroe his frequent guest), and writer Hamilton Basso. Westport was often in the spotlight.

Westport&rsquos downtown had everything&mdasha library, small park, movie theater, locally owned book and stationery store, YMCA, ice cream parlor, Bill&rsquos Smoke Shop selling many magazines and newspapers, and many other local merchants who knew everyone, not unlike downtown in many towns. There was plenty to interest me, and I spent many Saturdays taking advantage of it all. On Saturday night, there was Miss Comers&rsquos ball-room dancing classes to which we wore formal dresses and white gloves and the boys wore tuxedos. Formal dresses then were long, full-skirted, often strapless, and made out of organza. This was the center of our social life, although the PTA also organized a more egalitarian Teen Canteen where kids could gather and dance around a pre-DJ jukebox.

In high school, I became an editor on the student newspaper, got involved in whatever clubs were available, and spent most afternoons behind the counter at my father&rsquos store. When it came to considering colleges, I had little guidance from my parents, who had not been to college themselves. Mistakenly, I started at what was considered a good upstate girls&rsquo college. I soon discovered it felt like a continuation of my suburban life. I hungered to return to the city. I quit in the middle of my sophomore year, got a job as a legal secretary near home, took some courses at a nearby university, and applied to transfer to New York University, right back where I began.

My mother was all too happy to help me find a city apartment where she, too, could stay when she came in weekly for her decorating work. It was a delightful one-bedroom apartment in an unusual five-story apartment house on Central Park West. I took the subway daily to classes. This building was&mdashand remains&mdasha rarity amid the large prewar apartment houses, mostly from the 1920s and &rsquo30s, that dominate Central Park West north of Fifty-ninth Street. I had a fire escape that served as a terrace overlooking Central Park. My mother charmingly decorated the apartment mostly in mattress-ticking-covered furniture and thrift-shop bargains. I was thrilled.


Attending a New York City university had many advantages but none bigger than being back in the great metropolis. For me, it was a homecoming: New York University in the Greenwich Village of my birth. I was stunned by the envy of my New York-born NYU classmates who couldn&rsquot imagine suburban life being less than ideal and an out-of-town college being a privilege anyone would give up. They couldn&rsquot comprehend negative reports of suburban life and couldn&rsquot fathom my transfer from a highly regarded upstate campus school to NYU. As the saying goes: one has to leave home or the city to fully appreciate it. They had never left the city. The city offered me the limitless opportunity to tackle the activities and issues that interested me.

Democratic politics and the early civil rights movement had already captured my interest while I was in high school in Westport and years younger than voting age (then twenty-one). I remember walking around town in 1956 in my Adlai Stevenson straw hat handing out buttons and literature. Westport was staunchly Republican, but I didn&rsquot realize how my political activity would anger many of my father&rsquos customers. Some threatened to take their business elsewhere. I&rsquove always admired his response. He didn&rsquot discourage me one bit but asked that I not put a bumper sticker on the car that he sometimes parked in front of the store. He also did not object to my letter to the editor of the Westport paper in the late 1950s applauding the students sitting in at lunch counters down South. That paper criticized the sit-ins in editorials.

My interests found new outlets when I returned to New York. While at NYU, I joined Students for Kennedy (even though I was still too young to vote) and participated in founding meetings of Students for Democratic Society. It was an exciting time. Any student could jump into city politics. The Reform wing of the Democratic Party was in the midst of overthrowing the old-line city machine. For the 1960 election, I served as a poll watcher. That was a joke. I was so intimidated when &ldquodead&rdquo people voted&mdashpeople who came claiming to be someone who was dead, a favorite political-machine ploy&mdashI didn&rsquot have the guts to challenge their vote.

Later, I did two student internships with elected officials from the West Side district where I lived: Assemblyman Albert Blumenthal, who would later become a champion of abortion law reform, and State Senator Manfred Ohrenstein, who would later become an articulate opponent of Westway, the four-mile highway along the Hudson River that would become one of the biggest city controversies of my lifetime.

I headed the student club council and joined the campus civil rights groups. I did not have the nerve to join other students on bus rides to the southern sit-ins, but I did jump into the student wing of city Democratic politics, particularly organizing student volunteers for the close races around Manhattan. Emblazened in my memory is climbing the stairs and knocking on doors in East Harlem tenements in 1961 with activist-writers Jack Newfield and Paul DuBruhl to campaign for Carlos Rios, running for city council against Democratic machine candidate John Merli. Rios won by a small margin.

After NYU, when I joined the New York Post as a copy girl, I had to cease all political involvement but continued to hang out with some of the friends I had made while active in citywide politics, including Jack Newfield, who was then an occasional freelancer for the Village Voice and eventual staff writer. We spent many a Friday afternoon sitting in Voice editor Dan Wolf&rsquos office with other regular Friday &ldquodrop-ins.&rdquo The Voice had been founded in 1956 by Wolf, Ed Fancher, and Norman Mailer as an alternative weekly focusing on the arts, especially the off-Broadway scene. It evolved into the center of outsider arts and politics, while covering a lot of issues not well covered, if at all, in the mainstream press.

I mostly listened as big news events were debated among regular visitors. Michael Harrington and Nat Hentoff were among them. That is where I first met Voice writer Mary Nichols, who became a good friend. Jane Jacobs was an occasional participant, but I don&rsquot remember meeting her there. Village Democratic Reform leader, future congressman, and eventual mayor Ed Koch always seemed to be there. Koch was the first politician I met who knew how to laugh at himself. Koch and then may-oral hopeful John Lindsay were among the few politicians whom Wolf supported editorially. City politics was always the hottest topic of debate in these afternoon sessions, especially the campaign to overthrow the long-entrenched Democratic machine. Both Koch and Lindsay were in their ascendancy. Not long out of college, I was in the thick of city life, as I had wanted to be.


That was the call that made me hop to my feet when I started at the New York Post in March 1963 as a copy girl. &ldquoBoy!&rdquo It was a lowly position, equivalent to errand runner. But after the first African American copy boy was hired the next spring, the shout gradually changed to &ldquoCopy!&rdquo

&ldquoCopy&rdquo is what a reporter&rsquos story was called, typed on a manual typewriter in triplicate and needing to be picked up from the reporter by a copyboy, carried to the editors&rsquo desk, and subsequently carried from the editor out to the composing room where typesetters set it in lead type and makeup men laid out each page before sending it along on the printing process. The term hard copy, an actual printed page, remains in use today, even in the age of computers.

That City Room would seem prehistoric today. An assorted collection of wood and metal desks held mechanical typewriters in a sunken center section. Paper and carbons were scattered everywhere. Cigarette butts littered the floor. Paper coffee cups with Greek symbols sat around for days. Wrappings from drinking straws hung from the ceiling, blown there by impish and bored copyboys. One end of the wrapping was torn off and the other end dipped into the jelly of the donuts. Blowing through the straw would propel the paper to the ceiling, and the jelly would make it stick. The sports department was in one corner, and the fashion and food section took up a smaller space in another corner. The chatter of the Teletype machine of the AP and UPI wire services never ceased.

New York had seven daily newspapers (the Herald Tribune, World Telegram and Sun, Daily Mirror, and Journal American no longer exist) when I started at the lowest rung of the City Room ladder, the promised first step to being a reporter, which, it turned out, didn&rsquot always happen. Because of a seven-month strike that affected all the city papers, copy boys resigned in droves, leaving precious job openings when the strike ended. I grabbed one. At a salary of $52 a week, I needed my parents&rsquo assurance of supplemental support since my monthly rent was $154.

A New York newspaper job fresh out of college with no out-of-town newspaper experience, the prescribed route for landing on a New York paper! Leaving New York again for me was out of the question. It was either get a New York newspaper job or pursue another field. So even the offer of a lowly copy boy position was a coup. This was the city of my birth from which I had been taken unhappily, but I couldn&rsquot wait to return. I was back soaking up the excitement of the city and determined never to leave again.


While my New York City youth was totally Manhattan-centric, my new colleagues at the Post came from all over the city and beyond. The City Room overflowed with talent. Pete Hamill. Ted Posten. Oliver Pilat. Gene Grove. Helen Dudar. Fern Marja Eckman. Bill Haddad. Barbara Yuncker. Norman Poirier. Judy Michaelson. Ed Kosner. Don Forst. Nora Ephron. Stan Opotowsky. Just watching them churn out great stories and well-turned phrases was the best possible journalism school.

Jimmy Wechsler was the editorial-page editor. He had been the executive editor, famous for standing up to J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy and for breaking the story of the scandal that led candidate Richard Nixon to deliver the tearful Checkers speech on television. Paul Sann was now the skillful executive editor. With his cowboy-booted feet up on the desk and his antique two-part candlestick phone, Sann seemed like the editor after whom Walter Burns of The Front Page was fashioned. The Post City Room looked like the stage set out of The Front Page era. In fact, for a revival of the play, the star, Bert Convey, came to observe and get a &ldquofeel&rdquo for his role.

The Post occupied the first few floors of an early-twentieth-century office building in Lower Manhattan, 75 West Street, only a few blocks south of what would become the World Trade Center. This 1920s building was converted to an upscale condominium in 2003. That district was then a bustling collection of electronics stores with a thriving wholesale produce market just to its north. I watched all that disappear under the bulldozers of so-called progress defined by the extraordinary excavation that made way for the Twin Towers. That excavated dirt became the landfill on which Battery Park City was created, directly across the West Side Highway.

The Hudson River and expanding landfill were the view from our office window until, in 1969, the Post moved to the other side of Lower Manhattan, at 210 South Street (former home of the Journal American), between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and just north of the Fulton Fish Market. There, we watched the South Street Seaport Museum and mall fill up the restored historic buildings. Some of the fishmongers stayed in the Fulton Fish Market despite the city&rsquos efforts to relocate them up to the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, but the great fish restaurants&mdashSweets, Sloppy Louie&rsquos&mdashdisappeared. By 2004, the fishmongers too had left for either the Bronx or out of town. With their move from the Fulton Market, more of the smaller fish businesses closed, and big ones have gotten bigger.


Within my first year, I moved up from copy boy to editorial assistant, a move hardly worthy of the word up. I answered phones and wrote plot lines for TV listings in the feature department, but all around me was the buzz of the real news business and I soaked it up.

In August 1963 I traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the March on Washington. It was one of the most memorable events of my life. Editorial-page editor James Wechsler, who, like many people, didn&rsquot anticipate the significance of the event, asked me many questions about it when I returned. He regretted not going and said, &ldquoThis is something you will be happy to tell your grandchildren about.&rdquo He was correct.

Months later, the hot topic in the City Room was all the political jockeying unfolding before the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. I was dying to go. But the New York Post management was notoriously tightfisted. The editors were happy to have me work at the convention as editorial assistant if I took vacation time to go, paid my own way to get to Atlantic City, and covered my own expenses. Once there, I was paid my normal salary. Of course, it was worth it. Mostly I ran errands, but it took me to the convention floor among the delegates.

The convention was an emotional one, less than a year after Kennedy&rsquos assassination. I watched from the press box as Robert Kennedy addressed the cheering crowd and received a twenty-minute standing ovation before he said his first word. Tears welled in his eyes.

My big editorial break came on the last day of the convention. All staff reporters were off on assignments. I was alone in our makeshift office with managing editor Stan Opotowsky. A press release came in announcing that President Lyndon B. Johnson would celebrate his birthday on the boardwalk with a big cake. Stan sent me up to take notes. The cake was in the shape of the United States. Johnson took his first slice out of the state of Texas. A more obvious story lead could not be handed to the most inexperienced reporter. I came back and instead of typing notes, as Stan had asked, wrote the story, starting with LBJ taking the first slice out of Texas. Stan was caught by surprise, edited the story, and sent it in immediately. It made the front page&mdashno byline&mdashunder a photo of Johnson slicing the cake. The word spread around the City Room that it was my story, and many of the reporters cheered. They were now my friends and rooting for me.

Soon after the Atlantic City convention in August 1964, a Young Democrats event was scheduled to take place at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York mayors. LBJ was now the presidential nominee, and much was being made in the news about Texas barbecue replacing the elegant French food served in the Kennedy White House. Walter Jet-ton was Texas&rsquos most famous barbecue chef, and he was coming to New York. I was still only an editorial assistant at the Post, but I offered Dan Wolf the story for the Village Voice. He said yes.

The story depicted Lynda Bird Johnson&rsquos New York political debut at this young citizens&rsquo event at Gracie Mansion, hosted by Robert Wagner Jr., son of the mayor. The Texas-style barbecue and Texas-sized portions of food marked the abrupt transition experienced by these young sophisticates, many of whom had first been politically energized by the youthful &ldquovigah&rdquo and style of the Kennedys, not to mention the dominance of French food and understated elegance.

I don&rsquot know if that story in the Voice advanced my standing with the Post editors, but two months later, I started my three-month &ldquotryout&rdquo as a reporter. On my first day, Judy Michaelson, a veteran reporter, advised me, &ldquoTake your first assignment, run right out of the office as if you know exactly what you are doing, and then call me from the nearest phone booth.&rdquo As it turned out, I didn&rsquot need to. I was sent to cover a press conference held by proabortion advocate Bill Baird calling for legalization. Only a year or two earlier, I had had an abortion, forced to go to the infamous Women&rsquos Hospital in Puerto Rico rather than succumb to the illegal, unsafe backroom procedure available in the United States. I knew more than any reporter&mdasheven a new one&mdashneeded to know about the subject.

A few years later, abortion would become one of the issues on which I focused as a reporter. I covered efforts to change the law, wrote a six-part series on the issue, and then wrote the cover story for Ms. when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down from the U.S. Supreme Court in January 1973. That was the height of the women&rsquos movement, and I was as much a part of it as my professional restrictions permitted. When editors allowed me, I wrote stories related to women&rsquos issues, not something many editors allowed at other newspapers.

Rape was another topic that I covered in depth in the early 1970s before the laws applying to it were liberalized. There was little talked about and less written about a subject fraught with myth and pain. Susan Brownmiller&rsquos Against Our Will, published in 1975, changed all that and catapulted the issue into the nation&rsquos consciousness. But when I was writing this series a few years earlier, corroboration requirements were so onerous, a &ldquowoman&rsquos word&rdquo so suspect, juries so doubtful, and policemen and district attorneys so unsympathetic that most women didn&rsquot even report the crime, and if they did very rarely achieved justice. I wrote a six-part series on rape in 1972, spotlighting the inequity of the law. What I learned over the months of research and interviews for that series angered me greatly. Attitudes ranged from &ldquowomen should relax and enjoy it&rdquo to &ldquothey ask for it.&rdquo Blaming the victim was common. My slowly emerging feminism ratcheted up to full speed.


In January 1965 I was promoted to full &ldquogeneral assignment&rdquo reporter, byline and all, loving the daily routine of being sent all over the city on whatever news story was unfolding. Murders, press conferences, &ldquodaily close-ups&rdquo (features on personalities in the news&mdashauthors, bank presidents, actors, philanthropists, and so on), and everyday mundane assignments consumed most of my time. But the full luxury of picking issues to write about came after several years of being a reporter.

The &rsquo60s art scene, very much a new &ldquoscene&rdquo&mdashauctions, museum openings, artist personalities&mdashwas another reporting focus. Art auctions were now making big news on a regular basis. I had grown up in a household where art was a daily interest. The Whitney Museum, the quintessential institution of the Village and then still on Eighth Street, was a favorite place for my mother, my sister, and me to visit. The Whitney moved uptown in 1954. Young, not yet well-known artists were my parents&rsquo friends, including Mark Rothko and his wife, Mel, who lived in our apartment house, and Milton Avery, whose daughter, March, was my sister&rsquos classmate and friend. My mother sold art by her friends, then still unknown, to her decorating clients.

And then, in May 1965, I married Donald Gratz, a metal manufacturer peripherally in the art and architecture business. Architecture was a new world for me, and I learned from him. My interest in art and architecture expanded, and I applied it to the reporting assignments I requested.

At the same time, I reported on housing, urban renewal, and community battles for survival, on small successes and large failures, on historic preservation and neighborhood revitalization. I saw government policies repeat the mistakes of the past because vested interests, misguided analyses, and wrongheaded plans stood in the way of appropriate urban change. And I saw neighborhoods rebuild themselves despite government-created impediments. What I learned about the dynamic of cities I learned first in the neighborhoods of New York and from the people who fought to save and renew their turf. Residents and business owners in any place, the essential users, instinctively know what is needed and not needed to keep their community healthy or to make it better.

I covered the fight to build low-income housing in middle-income neighborhoods and wrote with colleagues Anthony Mancini and Pamela Howard a six-part series, &ldquoThe Great Apartment House Crisis.&rdquo I worked on another six-part series, this one about the newly opened Co-op City and its impact on the South Bronx, especially the Grand Concourse from which many of the residents had moved. I was stunned to observe such massive relocation out of one neighborhood into another. Later, I investigated shady landlords and cheating nursing home operators, covered hot zoning battles and ongoing urban renewal clearance projects, and investigated Forty-second Street property owners purposely renting to illicit uses to make a case for city condemnation and payout for their properties.


Historic preservation grabbed me most of all, probably because so much of the city was threatened by demolition and I was so impressed by the local people I met in the neighborhoods fighting to save their communities and the things that made them special. Sometimes the battle was to save a building, other times to get a traffic light in front of a school or to prevent a rezoning that would permit an out-of-scale new project to intrude on a neighborhood.

Most of these grassroots warriors did not know the difference between architects H. H. Richardson and Philip Johnson, but they knew what the local church, school, library, or firehouse meant as an anchor to their neighborhood. They saw the row houses and modest apartment houses dating from the lost eras of quality and care being replaced by dreary, barrackslike structures or excessive scale, projects that undermined the fragile economic and social ecosystem on which any community rests. They knew what inappropriate new development could do. Planners, city officials, academics, and other experts either dismissed or ignored the common wisdom. Worse, many of them didn&rsquot even know how to hear it.

At the same time, some grassroots community rebuilding efforts were mobilizing to reclaim solid but abandoned buildings, trying to create affordable housing for people being displaced by demolition-style rebuilding all over the city. These efforts grew into the significant community-based redevelopment efforts that laid the groundwork for the renewed city, an observable truth ignored or minimized by most contemporary histories of the city. The Cooper Square Committee on the Lower East Side. The People&rsquos Firehouse. UHAB (Urban Homesteading Assistance Board) on the Upper West Side. The People&rsquos Development Corporation and Banana Kelly in the South Bronx. Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration in Brooklyn.

These groups didn&rsquot oppose development there was no development to oppose. They created community-based housing organizations and renovated eighty thousand units, setting the stage for the private investment that followed. Collectively, they pushed for changes in the insurance laws that did more to discourage landlord-sponsored arson than any public policies. They developed new ways to finance the rehabilitation of housing, pushed for tenant protection, devised preservation strategies, and developed new and renovated units all over the city that helped stem the tide of abandonment and pave the way for new investment. Over the years, they advanced more redevelopment than for-profit developers did. &ldquoMore importantly,&rdquo notes Ron Shiffman, former director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and longtime adviser to many community efforts around the city, &ldquothey have enabled many places to retain their genetic footprint, the form that gave the distinctiveness and unique character to that particular community. They helped spawn the environmental justice and industrial retention movements. And they spurred greater attention to sustainable planning practices and green building approachers.&rdquo

I watched these citizen-based efforts rebuild a city in ways officials despaired to understand. To this day, too many &ldquoexperts&rdquo and public leaders fail to recognize the continued validity of this process, in New York City or elsewhere. These citizens all resisted official plans reflecting how experts said things should work and how people should live but not reflecting how people actually lived or that added to the vibrancy of urban life. These citizen groups were planning from the bottom up, and step by small step they were slowly adding up to big change. I was fascinated by these groups, and I learned from them. I didn&rsquot appreciate then that I was witnessing the precursors of the regeneration of the larger city.

The only way to understand any city or any part of it is to walk the streets, talk to people who live and work in the neighborhoods, look at what works or doesn&rsquot work, and ask why, how, who. Direct observation, not theory. Instinct over expertise. That is the journalist&rsquos habit or should be. It was not the habit of many professionals who claim to know best the interests of the city.

In many ways, the city in the 1960s and 1970s seemed no different from the New York of my childhood. But in so many ways it was different. The World Trade Center and Battery Park City were not yet built. Lincoln Center was in construction. The Metropolitan Opera and the McKim, Mead, and White Pennsylvania Station still stood. The New York City Landmarks Law&mdashone of the earliest in the country&mdashdid not exist. New York Magazine was yet to be born, first as a supplement to the Herald Tribune. Passenger liners graced West Side piers. The Twentieth Century Limited still went from Grand Central to Chicago. Yankee Stadium had not been renovated the first time, and Shea Stadium was in construction.

Suburban malls had not yet made an impact. All the department stores were in their rightful places along Fifth Avenue&mdashBonwit-Teller, Bergdorf-Goodman, Saks, Lord & Taylor, Best & Co. Fifth Avenue was &ldquothe Avenue,&rdquo and Thirty-fourth Street was still the preeminent &ldquopedestrian&rdquo shopping street. B. Altman&rsquos was at the Fifth Avenue end of Thirty-fourth, Macy&rsquos and Gimbels at the Sixth Avenue end. Ohrbach&rsquos was in between, along with dozens of small shops, both chains and locals. Soon, malls would vacuum the heart out of many American Main Streets. But while malls killed much of downtown America, they only partially injured New York City. The density of this city guaranteed a less dramatic impact than the shell shocks that crippled so many other cities.

On Forty-second Street, stores sold foreign newspapers, hats, costumes, and a great variety of entertainment-related goods. The sparkling marquees of great first-run movie houses were lined up one after another along that still quintessential street. A mix of low-end entertainment outlets, holdovers from the 1920s, gave the street its seedy feel. A few grind houses could be visited. Hubert&rsquos Museum, a Coney Island-style sideshow, had a flea circus, snake charmer, belly dancer, and wild man of Borneo. The pornography was soft core with hard core soon to come in the late 1960s. As newspaper exposés revealed, disreputable property owners welcomed the degenerate uses as tenants to strengthen their push for a publicly funded city renewal scheme and generous bailouts that would handsomely enrich them. Contrived or accelerated deterioration has long been a property owner&rsquos excuse for seeking financial concessions from the city. This pattern was common elsewhere in the city but most glaringly at the time on Forty-second Street.

Beneath its glittering gaudiness, the Times Square district overflowed with great original musicals (Fiddler on the Roof, Funny Girl, Cabaret, Hello, Dolly) and dramas (Golden Boy, Tiny Alice, The Subject Was Roses). The regal Astor Hotel had not yet been replaced by a die-stamped, glass-walled office tower. The Astor replacement was the first of many similarly banal ones that followed.

Until the bulldozer of urban renewal and misguided city-planning policies took their toll, the city&rsquos neighborhoods often had their own thriving entertainment centers with at least one movie house, local restaurants, and neighborhood retail to keep many residents happy. Times Square, Broadway theater, and Manhattan nightspots were for the Big Nights on the town and first-run films. By the 1970s, little of that was left, and the days were numbered for what remained. Times Square was New York&rsquos epicenter, and even that was in decline, and not an entirely natural decline at that.

The Upper West Side was like the set for the long-running musical West Side Story (opened in 1957), and years away from becoming chic. 4 Run-down brownstones, their high quality intact, lined the side streets. Neglected but elegant apartment towers dominated Central Park West. I loved my first one-bedroom apartment in that small building overlooking Central Park, but walking the side streets was something one did quite cautiously. Nighttime crime in the park was a constant.

The Upper East Side was then the enclave of the rich and the famous. And Brooklyn was another world. Visits to Coney Island and relatives were about the limit of my Brooklyn experience until then. When we lived in the Village, my grandfather occasionally came from Brooklyn for Sunday breakfast, bringing pickled herring, white fish, lox, and bagels from Brooklyn&rsquos Avenue J. When I returned to New York as an adult, he would meet me at the Horn & Hardart on Forty-second Street for a Sunday meal. He was intimidated by Manhattan and knew only the one subway stop at Forty-second Street from Brooklyn. The Bronx was out of my consciousness&mdashexcept for the zoo and Botanical Garden&mdashthough I used to visit relatives there too as a child. Queens I hardly knew, and Staten Island I don&rsquot remember even having visited.

New York hit bottom in the late 1960s and &rsquo70s, and even optimists could not foresee the rebound that has occurred. Crippling events and conditions scarred the decade. Crime, drugs, police corruption, municipal strikes, litter, housing abandonment&mdashanything that could go wrong did. Even a cable on the Brooklyn Bridge snapped in the mid-1970s.

1.3 &ldquoFord to City: Drop Dead&rdquo was the New York Daily News front page that summed up the state of the city. New York Daily News.

The famous headlines are the stuff of legend. &ldquoFord to City: Drop Dead&rdquo screamed the front page of the New York Daily News on October 30, 1975, when the president refused to help bail out the city&rsquos near bankruptcy. A few days later, he reversed the decision and loaned the city $500 million. In 1979, when Chrysler seemed destined for bankruptcy, the federal government easily extended $1.2 billion in loan guarantees. The same benefit had not been offered ailing New York City. The &ldquofiscal crisis,&rdquo as it was appropriately called, had reached the point when the city could no longer sell the bonds it needed to fund its budget. Sympathy from around the country was nonexistent. In the 1970s, New York was probably the most unloved city in the country.

&ldquoThere it is, ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning,&rdquo noted Howard Cosell as he looked up during a game at Yankee Stadium in 1977 and noticed a building on fire. &ldquoThe Bronx is burning&rdquo became the catch-phrase of the day. Arson&mdashboth landlord and tenant initiated&mdashwas rampant in poor neighborhoods, not just in the Bronx. Few saw a bright future for the city. The South Bronx served as the poster child for the collapse of the country&rsquos inner cities. The worst conditions were visible there. The movie Fort Apache, starring Paul Newman, took place in the South Bronx and highlighted the grim reality of uncontrolled crime. That movie wasn&rsquot made until 1981 and kept the worst image alive. Tom Wolf&rsquos Bonfire of the Vanities, also set in the Bronx at its worst, was published in 1987. A big hit, it, too, kept the worst images alive.

And then there was a whole year of the serial killer Son of Sam, who preyed on young women and couples, increasing the city&rsquos unease from anxiety to full-blown fear. The media heyday culminated in &ldquoCAUGHT,&rdquo the Post&rsquos dramatic 1977 headline at his capture. And while feeling a sense of relief, the elevated anxiety level of the city did not diminish. Son of Sam seemed to symbolize the crime wave the public feared, a condition common in all American cities in the &rsquo70s. High crime rates depressed everything. Revelations of systematic police corruption did not help public confidence in the era of high crime.

Beyond the memorable headlines were the endless psychic wounds underscoring the city&rsquos sinking state. In 1972, The Tonight Show abandoned Broadway for Burbank, California, as if leaving a sinking ship. The city became a favorite target of late-night talk-show jokes. Mayor John V. Lindsay appeared on the Dick Cavett panel show and in defense of New York said, &ldquoIt isn&rsquot true that people get mugged all the time in Central Park.&rdquo Replied Cavett: &ldquoNo. They just get murdered.&rdquo

That same year revealed an even deeper wound when Mayor Lindsay tried to build needed public housing in the middle-class neighborhood of Forest Hills in the borough of Queens. &ldquoScatter-site&rdquo projects&mdashsmaller increments of public housing inserted in middle-class communities&mdashwere offered as a socially progressive alternative to the postwar urban renewal format of high-rise ghettoes that evolved into new slums. The conflict sparked a virulent debate about race, class, and the post-civil rights era goal of integration. The large-scale project challenged the commitment of the heavily liberal and predominantly Jewish Forest Hills community. Representing the resistant community was a little-known Queens lawyer, Mario Cuomo. 5 Cuomo helped fashion a compromise that downsized the proposed public housing apartment buildings to half the planned size. Celebrated New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin turned the spotlight on Cuomo&rsquos defense of the average middle class and catapulted him into the political spotlight. Cuomo had successfully represented another fighting Queens neighborhood in 1966. At that time, the city was condemning sixty-six private homes in Corona to build a school. Cuomo challenged the city&rsquos plan to take the properties by eminent domain, a right formally expanded by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 to allow taking property from one private owner to give to another private owner without the conventional public purpose.

Two years after the Forest Hills project, in 1974, a portion of the West Side Highway collapsed, putting the deteriorated state of the city&rsquos infrastructure in the spotlight. Cutbacks in maintenance dated back to the heyday of big new projects and highway building when maintenance and rehabilitation neither scored political points nor provided enviable photo opportunities. A hugely expanded proposed replacement, Westway, became the lightning rod for the debate over the ongoing reshaping of the national landscape for the automobile. Opponents forced recognition of the importance of reinvesting in public transit after years of frenzied highway building at transit&rsquos expense. The battle marked the decade. The defeat in the mid-1980s marked a turning point in the regeneration of the city. (See chapter 9.)

In 1976 Mayor Lindsay promised the South Bronx a rejuvenated neighborhood when he committed $25 million to renovate Yankee Stadium&mdash&ldquothe centerpiece of another New York City neighborhood renaissance,&rdquo a city hall announcement boasted. When it was finished in 1977, the cost had escalated to $120 million, but not a penny of the promised $2 million had been spent improving the surrounding neighborhood. One can be sure that with the completion of the new Yankee Stadium, the city and ball club will take full credit for the regeneration of the surrounding neighborhood that occurred long before the stadium&rsquos current re-creation. Maybe the public will eventually forget the important local parks taken from the community, the expanded traffic-generating publicly paid-for parking garage given to the Yankees, and the millions in public subsidies for the stadium. Maybe the community will eventually accept the new park on top of a parking garage counted as a partial replacement and a scattering of replacement parks that will take years to deliver.

While the city invested in the stadium in 1976, the South Bronx was losing five thousand housing units yearly in rows of private houses, apartment buildings, and small businesses. Nothing comparable was invested in the renovation of potentially viable but partially abandoned neighborhoods. Arson for profit was the property owner&rsquos way out of neighborhoods the city had glaringly given up on. The city cut back on fire services, closing firehouses in the most vulnerable of neighborhoods, as if to say &ldquoLet it burn.&rdquo Community groups, not government, took the initiative to enduringly rebuild Bronx neighborhoods block by block while official city priorities were elsewhere.


The deep decay of our cities poisoned the decade. Across America, conditions varied only in degree, not in kind. Every social ill imaginable was blamed on the urban condition. None of the big-project bromides meant to rejuvenate cities were working anywhere. St. Louis had demolished its economic heart on the waterfront to build the Saarinen Arch in the 1950s and kept losing economic strength and population. Chicago had erased the dense neighborhoods of the South Side for the parade of dysfunctional public housing high-rises now being torn down and replaced, but that city&rsquos decline continued. Pittsburgh had wiped out the vibrant black community of the Hill District made famous by August Wilson to build an arena and arts center (not built), and left vast unused land empty around it for decades. Los Angeles had wiped out its authentically urban downtown when it leveled Bunker Hill. An interstate highway had wiped out Miami&rsquos vibrant and historic black community of Overton. Buffalo had wiped out at least half of its downtown to build a highway and then watched the unused cleared land lie fallow as the rest of the city continued to fall apart. Boston had cleared its bustling West End. By the 1970s, urban challenges had gotten worse. All the big visions had mushroomed. All the big visions had made things worse.

The lost neighborhoods had mixtures of working poor, industry, small manufacturers, and strong social networks and institutions that bolstered the difficult lives of their residents. The social upheaval caused by these physical changes was catastrophic. Baltimore, Portland, Seattle, Miami, Indianapolis, you name it, urban renewal or highways demolished large swaths of the urban fabric in almost every city, weakening almost beyond repair the remaining urban threads. Few cities stood firm against the bulldozer like Savannah, which, as one native recalled, &ldquoresisted urban renewal as a communist plot.&rdquo All of the bulldozed neighborhoods, of course, were either predominantly low-income African American and Hispanic or a mix of residents, small businesses, and industries, or both.

Decades of postwar federal investments in highways and suburban developments coupled with decades of financial institutions&rsquo abandonment of urban dwellers and their properties had done the trick. The suburban ideal reached its height, the urban alternative its depth. Throughout the 1970s, the bleak condition of urban America was on the front pages of newspapers across the country.

These were turbulent times, to be sure. New York City was at the point of collapse. Over the space of a decade, the city went from bad to worse. Strikes by sanitation and subway workers occurred and even briefly by police and doctors in city hospitals. The blackout of 1965 had brought out the best in everyone. People came through it with grace and dignity. We patted ourselves on the back with the slogan, &ldquoWhen the going gets rough, New Yorkers get going.&rdquo Everyone was ineffably polite. The riots of the 1960s, both in New York and in other cities, had focused mostly on black rage, racial injustice, and the until then out-of-sight, out-of-mind dire conditions in urban ghettoes. But by the blackout of 1977, looting marked the day, taking the city to the brink of disaster. More than two thousand stores were burned in twenty-four hours. Areas of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, and the Lower East Side, after years of tumultuous physical and social reengineering, seemed to implode. It was as if the rug had been pulled out from under the city. City planners predicted the population would drop precipitously from just under eight million to five. 6

The limits&mdashand question of usefulness&mdashto the projections of planners and urban economists come into focus every few years. As New York Times columnist Joyce Purnick pointed out in a December 31, 2006, article, &ldquoNew York, Where the Dreamers Are Asleep,&rdquo &ldquoThe city&rsquos population has had a way of taking on a life of its own. Zoning consultants in the 1960s advised city officials that New York&rsquos population would grow to 8.5 million in 1975&mdashit may well have if not for the fiscal crisis that was at its worst in 1975. Instead, the numbers dropped so sharply&mdashto 7.2 million in 1980 from 8 million in 1970&mdashthat some social scientists advocated &lsquoplanned shrinkage&rsquo in city services.&rdquo Purnick also noted that by 1990 the city&rsquos population was up to 7.6 million, &ldquoan increase that was also unanticipated.&rdquo With that growth came the need for some schools to build annexes in prefabricated trailers to handle the equally unanticipated increase in students. Families with children living in the city&mdashwhat a concept! How things had changed.

Jim Dwyer reflected in a July 14, 2007, New York Times column, &ldquoOnly the deranged or visionary could have imagined on that summer night in 1977 that New York in 2007 would be fat, happy and standing-room only perched here in 2007, many would find it hard to believe that 2,000 stores were burned or looted inside of 24 hours.&rdquo


As despairing as the 1970s were, symbolic events helped boost the city&rsquos fragile ego. For example, in 1976, to honor the Bicentennial, the Tall Ships from around the world sailed into New York Harbor on a glorious summer weekend, reminding New Yorkers and the world of the treasure that is the city. The event, along with the decadelong debate over Westway, reminded the city that it had turned its back on the untapped resource of 572 miles of waterfront.

New York Magazine celebrated New York&rsquos celebrities throughout the 1970s and coincidentally celebrated the city itself. Aspiring cities across the country spawned similar city-focused publications, fueling the aspirations of the urban boosters.

Exuberant nightlife flourished, personified in John Travolta&rsquos performance in Saturday Night Fever. Studio 54, the headline-grabbing discotheque, opened in 1977, demonstrating to the world that New York life could be hard, but entertainment and nightlife still thrived. The Bronx, too, was giving birth to a unique music scene, hip-hop, born in the unglamorous first-floor community room in &ldquoan otherwise unremarkable high-rise just north of the Cross Bronx and hard along the Major Deegan,&rdquo wrote David Gonzalez in the New York Times. There, in 1973, Clive Campbell, known as DJ Kool Herc, spun together the tunes that spilled out onto nearby streets and parks, eventually spreading worldwide. 7

In 1978, in the gritty, crime-ridden meatpacking district on the Lower West Side, a Frenchman, Florent Morellet, opened a diner and French-bistro hybrid where longshoreman ate at Formica countertops next to a rising number of well-heeled customers, raising the neighborhood&rsquos profile that today is the epitome of chic. The classic diner structure was a centerpiece of this once vibrant food-focused district of low-rise buildings with projecting canopies and cobblestone streets. By 2008, Florent had had enough and closed the restaurant. By then, the Gansevoort Historic District was one of the city&rsquos most upscale.

New York had become the center of the international art world in the 1960s but came into full bloom in the 1970s. With the defeat of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, SoHo blossomed into both an arts district and an exemplary reborn industrial neighborhood. SoHo helped change the way the country viewed cities. New York Magazine declared SoHo &ldquothe most exciting place to live in the city.&rdquo Loft living became the new chic. Other cities followed suit. Urban resilience was the wave of the future.

SoHo grabbed the headlines, but the real early stirrings of rebirth were totally citizen generated in neighborhoods out of the mainstream consciousness. The Back-to-the-City and Brownstone Movements began slowly in the 1960s all over New York City and in cities across the country. The increasing urban appeal gained strength in the 1970s. Historic architecture, great financial values, and urban lifestyles were the draw. Young middle-class families&mdashcalled &ldquourban pioneers&rdquo&mdashbegan repopulating run-down neighborhoods around the country. It seems incomprehensible today to think that Georgetown in D.C., the Vieux Carre and Garden Districts in New Orleans, the Victorian Districts in San Francisco and Savannah, Back Bay in Boston, Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, and so many other now chic neighborhoods were once deteriorated slums.

And in the either abandoned or half-empty neighborhoods that most pioneers overlooked, new immigrants found shelter and opened new businesses. By the late 1970s, seventy-five thousand immigrants a year were coming to New York, twice the number of New Yorkers leaving for the suburbs. Immigration laws were loosened in 1965, but it wasn&rsquot until the 1970s that one could observe the full flowering of these changes.

The enormous positive impact of the new waves of immigrants took a long time for experts to acknowledge. To this day it is a rare expert who acknowledges the long-standing and full positive impact because with that acknowledgment should come recognition of the organic nature of what has occurred, in that it was not developer or government driven.

Early in 2009 during the debate over the size and nature of the congressional stimulus package, Thomas L. Friedman wrote a column, &ldquoThe Open-Door Bailout,&rdquo advocating a nonprotectionist bent to the legislation. He pointed out how critical to our past and recent national history have been the waves of immigrants. In the recent context, he cited a study showing that more than half of Silicon Valley start-ups of the last decade were founded by immigrants. Another study showed that increases in patent applications parallel increases in H1-B visas. Friedman quoted the somewhat tongue-in-cheek stimulus advice from Shekhar Gupta, editor of the Indian Express newspaper, &ldquoAll you need to do is grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese and Koreans. We will buy up all the sub-prime homes. We will work 18 hours a day to pay for them. We will immediately improve your savings rate&mdashno Indian bank today has more than 2 percent nonperforming loans because not paying your mortgage is considered shameful here. And we will start new companies to create our own jobs and jobs for more Americans.&rdquo 8 In effect, that is what happened in New York in the 1970s and &rsquo80s with the great immigrant influx.


The seeds of recovery were being sown off the conventional radar screens, real even if unseen. Far from the public consciousness and not spotlighted in the press, local groups in the 1970s started forming in the worst of neighborhoods, too. The creativity and innovation that often evolve out of struggle were laying the foundation for the resurgence to come. The renaissance began in a multitude of small ways, all of which would eventually add up to big change. The 1970s allowed for positive measures emanating from the most local level because government was out of ideas and money and desperate for new solutions. When given the opportunity, local citizen-led groups were innovative and productive agents of urban change. Small steps collectively made a big impact.

Urban economist Dr. Saskia Sassen points out that an infusion of young women began making an impact. &ldquoIn the 1970s, a lot of young people were coming to New York, including many professional women coming for things like publishing,&rdquo she says. &ldquoWomen were leading the lives they wanted and not leaving the city after marriage.&rdquo

Significantly, in 1977, Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) that provided a lifeline for moderate-income home buyers and local housing groups and forced financial institutions to find ways to reinvest in the same neighborhoods they had taken money out of years before. This critical access to capital had been missing from poor neighborhoods for decades. Financial institutions were now required to serve the qualified poor as well as the rich. The CRA was the result of a vigorous national campaign, led by Chicago activist Gale Cincotta, founder of the National People&rsquos Action. Banks, following strict standards, were now required to make loans to qualified borrowers of all income levels in the neighborhoods from which deposits originate. The act allowed for community challenge of bank policies that negatively affected low-income neighborhoods, forcing many banks to reexamine their former redlining policies that gave them license to use investment dollars earned in cities to build suburbia. Eventually, some bank executives admitted that if the CRA had not forced them into it, they would never have discovered what turned out to be a profitable market of underserved low-to moderate-income home buyers. The CRA made possible a needed infusion of resident and business investment in deteriorated neighborhoods.

Former City Limits editor Alyssa Katz, looking back in 2006, wrote, &ldquoBy the summer of 1977, more than 20,000 buildings in New York would be abandoned. At the end of that year, the city owned 6,000 buildings and was poised to foreclose on 25,000 more. Yet pockets of hope took hold in besieged neighborhoods across the city. With the support of community groups, tenants were taking charge of their buildings as the landlords abandoned them. The earliest of these efforts had won the backing of the administration of Mayor John Lindsay.&rdquo 9

Alphabet City on the Lower East Side, Kelly Street in the South Bronx, UHAB on the Upper West Side, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and many other low-income communities in between all had rejuvenating projects bubbling up. The Cooper Square Committee, Adopt-a-Building, organized in East Harlem to reclaim abandoned buildings and spear-headed other groups on the Lower East Side, then called Loisada, into joining Mobilization for Youth and Pueblo Nuevo Housing and Development Association, all of them working in small segments that eventually spread over a large area.

The first rooftop windmill, solar panels, composting, and recycling efforts were undertaken by some of these groups. On East Eleventh Street a small apartment house was reclaimed and a windmill and solar collectors installed on the roof. This effort was led by the Energy Task Force with the Pratt Center designing the building. The People&rsquos Development Corporation, Mid-Bronx Desperados and Banana Kelly in the Bronx, the East Harlem Renegades in Harlem&mdashall over the city grassroots efforts were the precursors to the city&rsquos future rebirth.

Robert Schur, assistant housing commissioner, left his city position and formed the Association of Neighborhood Housing Developers, a coalition advocating on behalf of local groups. This was a unique coming together of grassroots groups and technical capacity provided by advocacy planners mostly associated with the Pratt Center for Community Development in Brooklyn. 10 These were the people whose homes, businesses, social networks, and family connections had been destroyed under the Moses bulldozer and who had been displaced and relocated one too many times. &ldquoEnough,&rdquo they declared. They dug in their heels where they were and set about rebuilding their lives, their communities, and, eventually, the city itself. Their ingenuity and determination emerged in spite of minimal resources.

This primarily community-based housing movement, with foundation funding, ignited a momentum for change that persuaded conventional developers&mdashand their institutional lenders&mdashto follow their lead with new investment in the very neighborhoods they had previously redlined and declared hopeless. Smart city officials, cajoled by community advocates, responded to proposals for new innovative housing policies that by the end of the century had restored or replaced almost all of the city&rsquos once-endless supply of vacant and deteriorated buildings. Eventually, establishment developers and financial institutions followed, building on the foundation of local efforts and, of course, took credit for it all. Their only measure for success was developer investment. Nothing was real to them without developers. But, incontrovertibly, it was the grassroots, citizen-based movement that regenerated the city that developers and Wall Street took over. This organic, diverse, and incremental renewal process, not so-called economic development projects, revived New York and simultaneously took root in many communities across the country.

The precursors of regeneration took many forms and were allowed to evolve fully because there was no money or interest from either government or the private sector to interfere. Even the country&rsquos community-garden movement had one of its earliest starts in the most down-and-out neighborhoods of this city. The Green Guerillas tore down barbed-wire fences, cleaned up garbage, and cultivated abandoned lots first on the Lower East Side but eventually all over the city and beyond. The term guerilla gardening was born here. This early effort matured into a revival of urban agriculture in low-income neighborhoods around the city.

The Union Square Greenmarket overcame official resistance and the cynicism of the experts to get off the ground in 1976, part of a then small national revival of farmers&rsquo markets nationwide that is now a big-time national success. On the West Coast, Alice Waters had opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, buying from a network of local farmers and ranchers dedicated to sustainable agriculture and beginning a slowly contagious national trend championing locally grown food, small farms, and fresh ingredients. Similarly, new restaurants opened around Union Square, taking advantage of the immediate access to fresh products from regional farmers. The ripple effects were widespread. Now Greenmarkets blanket the city, giving many low-income communities access to fresh, healthy food direct from farmers.

1.4 The necklace I never take off. Sandra Morris.

All of this was part of the renewal process, one that took root in communities across the country, not just New York. One charismatic leader did not make these things happen. Nothing happened quickly. This bottom-up change came out of the city&rsquos culture of confrontation, contention, and caring. More important, none of this positive change was about stadia, convention centers, big clearance projects, tourist attractions, or other officially embraced baubles encased in rejuvenation rhetoric.

Preservation was the most visible of the bellwether issues indicating good things to come. For this reason, the next chapter recalls early landmark history to understand preservation as a framework for change. Reporting on landmark preservation revealed my eventual passionate commitment to the issue.

When New York seemed to hit bottom and outsiders derided everything about it, New Yorkers rose up in defense, forming block associations, planting trees and flower boxes, organizing house tours, finding many ways to demonstrate their loyalty. In response to external hostility&mdashparticularly the &ldquoCity Drop Dead&rdquo headline&mdashthe &ldquoI Love New York&rdquo campaign took hold. I had always been one of those New York boosters and wrote a little feature story on the things one could buy to flaunt one&rsquos New York chauvinism. Not much was available, but I still have and regularly wear the gold necklace I found at B. Altman&rsquos with the words &ldquoI Love New York.&rdquo That was all I could find for the story. The &ldquoBig Apple&rdquo and &ldquoI Love New York&rdquo campaigns came later, an outgrowth of New Yorkers&rsquo shared chauvinism.

Nationally, too, not everything was negative. In September 1975, a National Neighborhood Conservation Conference was held in New York City. Grassroots urban preservation and historic neighborhood repopulation efforts were under way in forty-five cities, including New York. Most historic preservation efforts started in response to the urban renewal clearance projects in each city. Representatives from those efforts came together in New York to compare &ldquowar stories&rdquo and learn from one another.

The Bicentennial celebration in 1976 unleashed a new interest and pride in ethnic roots and national history, so much of which is urban based. The historic preservation movement grew in popularity as the fight to save Grand Central Terminal scored a dynamic victory in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978. The appreciation of the authentic city, the fight to protect neighborhoods targeted for &ldquorenewal,&rdquo and the self-help inclination of local people were all visible and gaining momentum in the 1970s.

Jane Jacobs&rsquos principles were in their ascendancy. The Moses-style strategies were in a free fall and fiercely resisted. Where they might have continued, the cessation of the federal money flow did the trick. Today, the New York City neighborhoods with the strongest appeal are the ones that reflect best Jacobs&rsquos teaching the ones in need of greatest help are the ones erased and replaced with Moses-style visions.

The world and this city have changed enormously in the intervening years. Change is the constant, unfolding in sometimes dramatic but often subtle ways. Yet as much as things change, the more they stay the same. Many of the kinds of things I wrote about in the 1960s and 1970s still go on today in different guises. In this book, I use some of the earlier New York stories to spotlight the larger issues they illustrate. Useful lessons and parallels can be drawn from many of those stories. Most assuredly, however, the contrast of the city now and then reflects today&rsquos stark contrast to the topsy-turvy world of the 1960s and 1970s when a girl could be called a boy and nobody would blink an eye.


The Village is amorphous I can shape it into any place. . . . Everything in the Village . . . seems haphazard, accidental. When we first moved there, the old-timers told us the Village had Changed. The Village does not change, not really. The Village&mdashthe real Village, the one bounded by Fifth Avenue on the east and the Hudson River on the west&mdashremains an accident.

&ldquoManhattan When I Was Young&rdquo

I was a four-year reporter in 1969&mdashalmost a &ldquoveteran&rdquo&mdashwhen I was one of nine Post staffers sent to the neighborhoods of their youth to write a series of articles meant to dramatize the changes wrought by time. Anthony Mancini went to the Northeast Bronx, Judith Michaelson to Flatbush, Timothy Lee to Park Slope, Jerry Tallmer to Park Avenue, Lee Dembart to Jackson Heights, John Mullane to Kingsbridge, Carl J. Pelleck to the Lower East Side, Arthur Greenspan to the Grand Concourse, and I to Greenwich Village.

For the most part, except for Park Avenue, the neighborhoods retained their working-class character. The Northeast Bronx, the Grand Concourse, and Kingsbridge, along with Jackson Heights (&ldquothe poor man&rsquos Forest Hills&rdquo), were already on the upward-mobility route. The Northeast Bronx had not lost its rural feel, although the not-so-distant Co-op City, then in construction, was looming large. Park Avenue had already been transformed into mostly cooperative apartment houses with only twenty rental buildings left. And the Grand Concourse had not yet lost its &ldquoinsular, isolated existence&rdquo primarily for Jews.

In every neighborhood, however, were signs of &ldquocity services getting bad, buildings getting shabby . . . and a tension that wasn&rsquot there before,&rdquo as one wrote. The city had not hit the downward spiral that marked the 1970s, but its slow beginning was evident. Every neighborhood, it seemed, was in flux. Dramatic, if slow or subtle, shifts were unfolding, not the normal change of a healthy city. Moses&rsquos massive urban renewal and highway building projects were increasingly causing disruptions that rippled throughout the city and were a primary cause of out-migration.

Too many chroniclers of the exodus from urban America are either unaware, choose to ignore, or downplay the enormous destabilization caused by the massive clearance projects that wiped out whole residential and industrial districts that would today be gentrified hot spots of renewing districts. Few acknowledge the significant impact of the push-pull effect. The riots of the mid-1960s accelerated that migration to the expanding suburbs. And the decade of the 1970s brought us to the brink of the deep abysmal fiscal crisis that marked so much of that decade.


A few themes run through most of the reporters&rsquo recollections. As a group, these observations reflect New York as it entered the 1970s. Many older people were still &ldquoin the neighborhood,&rdquo having been in the same residences for decades. People didn&rsquot seem to move often. Many of their kids had left, although Jackson Heights, according to Dembart, was still considered by many &ldquothe first push to the &lsquosuburbs&rsquo&rdquo from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Every neighborhood was experiencing a changing ethnic makeup, often making longtime residents nervous. Some noted that each group &ldquostayed to themselves&rdquo and didn&rsquot &ldquobother with one another.&rdquo Others were quick to blame creeping downward trends on &ldquothem.&rdquo The &ldquothem&rdquo varied from neighborhood to neighborhood. Often, the new arrivals were the displaced of the latest &ldquoclearance&rdquo project elsewhere in the city. Many of those interviewed said the problems were being caused by their own kids, not as well behaved as they used to be.

The ethnic mix of each of these neighborhoods was still predominantly Irish, Italian, and Jewish, in differing proportions. Puerto Ricans, South Americans, Asians, and blacks were adding to the mix in different areas, but the minority numbers were still marginal in contrast to today. On Park Avenue, middle-class West Siders, mostly Jews, were moving over. In the Slope, Timothy Lee reported, &ldquothe new people&rdquo were the &ldquotransplanted Manhattanites who have bought a few score of the attractive brick and brownstone houses over the past 10 years.&rdquo This was the only mention in any of the stories of the beginning of the great transformative trend that would bring middle-class residents back to so many historic neighborhoods in New York and across the country. Sometimes called &ldquothe Brownstone Movement,&rdquo &ldquothe Back-to-the-City Movement,&rdquo or just &ldquourban pioneers,&rdquo this early trickle of new, mostly young city investors was the vanguard of what is today one of the clearly recognized trends of urban regeneration. And like most movements of positive change, this one started slowly at a small scale at the grassroots level and was totally unrecognized or underestimated by the Experts.

Gangs had been a factor in almost everyone&rsquos childhood, but as Timothy Lee noted about the &ldquopredominantly Irish and Italian working class&rdquo Park Slope, &ldquoFor years their sons fought each other in gangs, sometimes to the death. They fought because one gang, the Tigers, was Irish, and the other, the Garfield-South Brooklyn Boys, was Italian. They stopped when pistols became more readily available during the Korean War and the fun was suddenly gone out of the fighting.&rdquo

Now, though, each neighborhood was experiencing new kinds of trouble&mdashvandalism and crime&mdashwhich the city would see dramatically increase during the 1970s. In Flatbush, Judith Michaelson observed, the street conflicts had been between &ldquothe apartment-house kids and the private-house kids.&rdquo Carl Pelleck remembered &ldquohanging out with gangs cause it was the thing to do.&rdquo What I thought I remember as gang fights in Greenwich Village were, according to author Victor Navasky, a classmate of my sister, &ldquoculture conflicts between the Italians of the South Village and the private school kids. Fights broke out during school soccer games and sometimes they&rsquod steal our soccer ball. When they taunted us after school, fist fights occasionally broke out.&rdquo What I witnessed in Washington Square Park was never worse than rough bullying and weapons never more dangerous than sticks. The degree of minimum violence and fear didn&rsquot compare to the 1970s.


In all of the neighborhoods, crime had been petty, but by the dawn of the 1970s, in many areas, things were getting rough. The rise in drug abuse was a common complaint, first experienced, Tim Lee noted, during the Korean War. At first, many of the drugged kids were the children of heavy-drinking parents, he added, but, increasingly, new groups were bringing drugs into several of the neighborhoods.

Almost everyone&rsquos neighborhood had a busy retail shopping street. John Mullane said of West 231st Street in Kingsbridge: &ldquoIt was impossible to go more than five steps without meeting another acquaintance.&rdquo For Kingsbridge, 231st Street was still its &ldquoTimes Square,&rdquo and even the RKO Marble Hill was still operating. This onetime common community experience, where the faces of shopkeepers were familiar and cops still walked the beat and were on a first-name basis with kids, seemed to be diminishing everywhere.

Streets had been playgrounds for many of us. &ldquoStickball was the big game,&rdquo Carl Pelleck noted about the Lower East Side. &ldquoYou asked a driver to please not park on the base, to drive to the other end of the block to keep the field clear. Most complied.&rdquo And in Kingsbridge, John Mullane noted, &ldquothe curb was reserved exclusively for bouncing pink Spaldeens off it.&rdquo No more. Stickball and curb ball were now clearly a thing of the past. Complaints now were of too many cars, either double-parked on the street or racing through the community &ldquolike the Indianapolis Speed-way,&rdquo as one Bronx resident complained to Anthony Mancini.

On the Grand Concourse, Arthur Greenspan found, displeasure was expressed about what traffic engineers had done to the residents&rsquo beloved boulevard. &ldquoThey&rsquove widened the street, ripped out half the trees, built dividing traffic islands of green concrete instead of grass, built yellow-pavement entrances and exits&mdashall the better to use the Concourse to flee elsewhere,&rdquo Greenspan wrote.

Only one return visitor, Jerry Tallmer, found his neighborhood quite improved: Park Avenue and Eighty-second Street, &ldquothe only homogeneous area in the city, with no weak spots, 86th St. down to 60th, between Fifth and Lexington . . . with the swinging scene&rdquo concentrated on First, Second, and Third Avenues. And only one returnee, Carl Pelleck, found his neighborhood, the Lower East Side, filled with dramatic poverty, &ldquofilth, high crime and total change&rdquo . . . but &ldquonever considered a fashionable place to live&rdquo in the first place.

The following is what I found when I went back to the Village.

&ldquoThe Old Neighborhood: Greenwich Village&rdquo

Post Daily Magazine, December 26, 1969

My apartment house is long gone, replaced by a grotesque monument otherwise known as the NYU Library. Washington Square Park is in a state of bulldozed shambles, a renovation promising some grand, improved design of the park that none of us thought needed improvement. Nathan&rsquos is coming to 8th St., Blimpie&rsquos is already on the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker, and Rienzi&rsquos&mdashthe once famed coffee house&mdashis now a boutique.

If there is anything remaining of the Greenwich Village in which I grew up in the &rsquo40s and &rsquo50s, it is elusive. Many of the brownstone-lined streets remain, their West Village quality intact, but the box-like shadow of intruding apartment houses is never far off the horizon.

Gone is the spirit of the small community, separate and distinct from the rest of New York and the nation. Gone is the feeling that whatever was off-beat in the Village&mdashthe people, the dress, the symbols, the issues&mdashwas at least its own and not imported.

Gone too is the predominance of small shop-owners&mdashmore craftsmen than businessmen&mdashwho once thrived in the low-rent store fronts or cold-water lofts.

It is difficult to assess change in Greenwich Village. On the most personal level, nothing is the same. Yet in a larger sense there is still something special about the Village. It is still a geographic area unique to this city in architectural diversity, with a personality all its own. It is still the hub of newness&mdashnew movements, new dress, new life styles&mdasheven if all these are immediately commercialized. And it is still politically avant-garde, the first to take politics out of the hands of the professionals, the leader in zoning fights and landmark preservation.

What I wrote forty years go almost sounds current. The laments of many Villagers today are very similar, although a lot of specifics are quite different. I also noted that &ldquobit by bit NYU was taking over prime Village real estate to create a campus for itself.&rdquo

It was an ideal location for a child. The park was my backyard, and there were few park regulars we didn&rsquot know. Except for the university students, park people were Villagers and their friends. Strangers were immediately recognizable. Crowds were unusual even on warm weekends, and tourists were few and obviously out of place. Folksingers, artists with their easels, the chess players were always there, but they were just a part of the scene. No one interfered with anyone else. Buses still trafficked through Washington Arch to turn around and start back up Fifth Avenue, but that never stopped the ball games, roller skating, or the biggest sport of all&mdashseeing who could throw the ball to the top of the Arch. Our mothers let us play in the park, unwatched, confident that should a fall or fight occur, some grown-up would take care of it. There was little mischief you could get away with without your parents hearing about it.

Today, forty years later, all of the streets I walked are much improved. The strip clubs are gone from West Third, and the celebrated Blue Note survives. The variety along MacDougal is similar but of a higher quality, a mark of definite economic upgrade but not necessarily lifestyle change. It is truly a mixed bag, with a tattoo parlor here and there.

For after school, the then still uncommercialized coffeehouses&mdashwhere the espresso was brewed by the elderly Italian proprietor&mdashwere the equivalent to everyone else&rsquos corner drugstore soda fountain. There were the Italian hero shops, bakeries, vegetable stands, pushcarts with flavored ices. &ldquoSome of the South Villagers were pushed out by newcomers, others departed seeking upward mobility,&rdquo I noted in the article. &ldquoToday the Italian enclave is still very much in existence but it is also smaller.&rdquo


The South Village and Little Italy used to be one and the same. Today, Little Italy survives commercially only and covers a smaller area. Most of the resident Italians have moved on, but many of the well-known restaurants and specialty shops remain, some owned and operated by Armenians. The Italian feel is less but endures nonetheless because of the businesses that remain.

The area, like so many others, is undergoing development pressure, and community efforts have been aggressive to have it designated a historic district. Deservedly so, at that. One can assume this sizable area south of the park, with its colorful assortment of cafés and shops, was omitted from the original landmark district designation because in the mid-1960s, working-class districts of tenements and assorted businesses were not considered high architecture worthy of designation. Instead, they were targets of slum clearance. The South Village was more than just the cradle of Italian immigration. It was the epicenter of the beats from the 1920s on and the folk communities of the 1950s and &rsquo60s so long identified with the Village.

But in my 1969 article, I focused on the changing assortment of businesses that changed everything as rents escalated: &ldquoMost obviously hurt were the small entrepreneurs&mdashthe ones who slapped together jewelry, crafted hand-sewn shoes and bags, or created other &lsquoVillagey&rsquo merchandise. Then, too, success led some of these craftsmen to the less personal but more lucrative world of Uptown. The small stores were the heart of the Village&rsquos life style, one of the things that kept it a community within a city. Their demise has only accelerated the destruction of the neighborhood&rsquos character.&rdquo

On Eighth Street, everything new was offensive: open-front hot-dog stands that were a cheap reflection of Times Square, chainlike clothing stores offering the newest in ugliness and claiming their styles were of the Village. And one stretch of small stores was enclosed in a most incongruous imitation of a colonial-style suburban shopping center, with the pointed roof, redbrick front, white columns. If the new stores throughout the area weren&rsquot part of citywide chains, I noted, they looked like they might as well be. This intrusion was perhaps the most distasteful. Whatever used to be in the Village&mdashgood or bad&mdashwas at least its own.

Another diminishing characteristic of the Village, the article noted, was its rich source of used and rare bookshops. Only a few remained. One bookseller in business since the 1920s observed: &ldquoOne old brownstone was better for me than a 20-story apartment house. The brownstones had libraries, room for books. Sure, apartment dwellers read, but they have no space. All they want is paperbacks.&rdquo The concentration of used book-stores that still existed was in the East Village, dominated by the phenomenal Strand Book Store. Renovated in 2007, it remains one of the great stores of that kind in the country.

Then the article spotlighted some of the Village battles, noting the defeat of William Zeckendorf from completely transforming the Village into another Upper East Side. New high-rises were erasing the architectural and economic diversity.

While I was still living there I saw the high-income No. 2 Fifth Avenue replace the &ldquoHenry James&rdquo houses on Washington Square North. The Strunsky houses on Washington Square South in which, for many years, many artists lived were bulldozed to make way for the imitation Federal-style NYU Law School.

I had made only a quick and meager mention of the Moses defeats, mentioned with the same interest as the demise of Carmine DeSapio as a reigning political power. The Village always seemed to have multiple battles going on at the same time. The combative nature of its citizens was famous. But to me, those battles were just that, a series of citizen battles, and the role of neither Moses nor Jacobs had yet made much of an impression on me. In retrospect, this amazes me.

By the 1950s, I noted in my article, the Village had started to join the rest of New York, and penetration by new groups and outsiders seemed to change it. The beats took over MacDougal, and Washington Square changed from a community to a metropolitan park. The Village still was a place with character, but it seemed to be fighting a rearguard action.


Greenwich Village will probably always be &ldquothe Village.&rdquo Change inevitably brings differences from one era to another. But the essential character endures, reflected in the coffeehouses, artist studios, jazz clubs, railroad flats, walk-up apartments, esoteric bookshops, and artisan-based businesses.

In 1969, the changes I observed seemed a dramatic contrast to the Village of the 1940s and 1950s. In truth, they were. The 1960s were years of great ferment throughout the country. Here, national dramas always played out in the extreme. But more apparent today, somewhat in contrast to my 1969 observations, is how well this historic enclave absorbs those great social and economic shifts while retaining its essence.

The historical distinctions endure within this neighborhood of contrasts within a city of contrasts. More than most neighborhoods, the Village is difficult to categorize. Block by block, the neighborhood changes. Some broad distinctions are discernible. The elegant and luxurious Greek Revival and Federal townhouses of the northern streets remain among the city&rsquos most fashionable addresses. The venerable wide assortment of houses and tree-shaded streets of the West Village retain the quiet residential air of the era of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, e. e. cummings, and John Reed, despite the scattered presence of brassy, commercial tourist spots.

The Lion&rsquos Head on Sheridan Square, where journalists from the onetime diversified daily press gathered, disappeared as the selection of newspapers dwindled. But the White Horse Tavern, once the meeting place of Dylan Thomas, Norman Mailer, Michael Harrington, Jane Jacobs, and William Styron, survives on Hudson Street. The southern portion of the Village is still where the humbler assortment of tenements mixes in with townhouses and storefronts. Here, where the remnants of Little Italy survive, urban renewal did the most damage. And the enduring rakish and radical character of the East Village, birthplace of the flower-child generation and theatrical innovations like La Mama, is reflected in outlandish and colorful hair and dress styles, New Wave eateries, and entertainment uses.

For post-World War II America, the Village was the cradle of free-spirited, bohemian culture in the city and country. Abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, the beats, radical politics, sexual freedom, folk-song artists&mdashall manner of countercultures and cutting-edge movements&mdashwere born or nurtured there. Greenwich Village once seemed so separate from the rest of the city. Today, it is more integrated and not so far out of the mainstream. The center of the cultural avant-garde shifted long ago and now migrates every few years to the next yet-to-be upscaled city neighborhood, usually with the artists in the vanguard.


For many who live there, however, the Village is still a world apart from the rest of the city. And for some, it has the hometown feel they left behind to come to New York years ago. Kansas City-born author Calvin Trillin moved in 1968 with his wife, Alice, to a Federal row house when, he recalls, local stores put pictures of neighbors on their walls and when both rich and poor attended the public school, as did their daughters. Trillin wrote in a New Yorker article in June 1982: &ldquoI have always believed that my attachment to the Village has to do with what it shares with the Midwest, rather than with what Midwesterners would consider arty or bohemian. Compared to uptown Manhattan, it has always seemed less formal, more neighborly, less densely populated, built closer to human scale, and less dominated by the sort of building that requires walking past a doorman and into an elevator in order to go home&mdashan act that Midwesterners tend to find considerably more unnatural than a drunken poetry-reading in the park.&rdquo Twenty-eight years later, Trillin says that the fundamental atmosphere is the same. &ldquoA lot has been fixed up,&rdquo he says. &ldquoThe stores are better and there are more and better restaurants, more places than I can eat at. I never on purpose go to a restaurant I can&rsquot walk to.&rdquo

Even for me, having moved away so long ago, some places feel very familiar, even if considerably changed. The walk I took to school, primarily down MacDougal, has improved since my 1969 look back. But the lackluster assortment of gift shops and restaurants doesn&rsquot seem to have much character or appeal. Maybe it never really did.

The school I walked down MacDougal to get to, the Little Red Schoolhouse, remains an educational stronghold in the city and is totally recognizable in its original Bleecker Street location. This simple four-story redbrick schoolhouse has been comfortably expanded into a sensitively restored Federal row house next door. And the school added space in a modest, contemporary way next door to that on Sixth Avenue. The playground we used around the corner at Sixth Avenue and Houston survives due to its ownership by the New York City Parks Department.

Today, this vibrant district remains a great magnet for the unconventional it is, however, no longer the only one to do so because so much of the city has improved in recent decades, so that now no one area of the city is the favorite locale of the avant-garde, the artist, the off-beat lifestyle. In fact, what is unconventional is not easy to determine these days. Decades ago, a reasonable assumption could be that people dressed in all black were from the Village. Today that black-clad person could just as likely be an internationally known establishment architect from midtown or an uptown restaurateur.

The Village is still the great gathering place it has been historically. The variety of personalities is endless. Weekend users pour in from around the city and out of town, a long-standing phenomenon. In Washington Square Park, until the recent controversial redesign, a varied crowd still hung out around the huge circular water fountain that many people call &ldquothe fountain&rdquo or &ldquothe Circle.&rdquo The Circle was our summer wading pool. In great numbers on Sundays, folksingers gathered playing guitars, banjos, harmonicas, and handcrafted improvised instruments. They sang all the familiar songs of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and the unknowns. Many became famous, including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, but those days are a distant memory. Diverse crowds assemble there now. Groups cluster. But the music is gone. Now it is just one of the city&rsquos many magnetic gathering places.


The historic grittiness of Greenwich Village remains stable in large part because the complex urban fabric does, still fostering a diversity of uses and people. One hundred square odd-shaped blocks on a crazy quilt of meandering streets, Greenwich Village retains varied elements of historic layers that began with Dutch farmers in the 1700s. Affluent, upwardly mobile downtown merchants and bankers came in the 1800s. Downtowners fleeing cholera and yellow-fever epidemics migrated in the 1900s. In parallel time periods, the rough-and-tumble port activity along the Hudson waterfront spilled out onto Village streets.

Postwar buildings built before the 1965 landmarks law often do not relate well to the Village context. But since designation as a historic district, all alterations to existing structures and designs for new buildings must be reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. This sustains the Village&rsquos unique urban fabric and fundamentally protects its architectural heritage. Absorption of change is, for the most part, deliberative, incremental, and manageable, but change&mdashincluding many new buildings&mdashthere definitely is.

Physical and economic change has not stopped, but cataclysmic change has. In fact, incrementalism is exhibited there in its most effective form with storefront upgrades, historic restorations, conversions of commercial buildings to residential, many modest rooftop and rear yard additions, and new buildings fitting into scattered available sites. Equally significant, the Village remains a hotbed of community activism, easily stirred into forceful action as threats arise from private developers, public officials, or large-scale institutions like St. Vincent&rsquos Hospital or NYU. Civic protest movements have been recurrent in the Village for generations. They mounted as the garrets and saloons of bohemia fell under the wrecker&rsquos ball, as apartment houses replaced some of the Greek Revival homes of the nineteenth-century wealthy, and as New York University increased its holdings to more than 80 percent of all the real estate on Washington Square.

It was in Greenwich Village that Jane Jacobs and others ignited nationwide resistance to authoritarian planning policies so forcefully shaped by Robert Moses. The legacy of that civic watchfulness endures. From the 1959 closing of Washington Square Park to vehicular traffic and the more recent unsuccessful fight to save the Edgar Allan Poe House on West Third Street from demolition by NYU to an unsuccessful fight to stop St. Vincent&rsquos Hospital from a total disregard for the landmarks law and efforts to prevent the controversial transformation of Washington Square Park, the tradition of the engaged and vigilant community shows little sign of abating. Periodic public fights continue to provide the glue that keeps the spirit of community intact.

The commons of the Village, the 8.6-acre (eight square blocks) Washington Square Park, once again, has many young children in its one big playground, a reflection of the increase since the 1970s of young families in the neighborhood. Plenty of old people can be found sitting on park benches, too. Villagers don&rsquot move away easily. My grandfather and his friends had a favorite bench. I would run to say hello to him after school each day. I see the elderly on that bench today. And just as was true during my childhood, NYU students use the park well. They guarantee a youthful feel to the park population.

Before even the newest redesign, the drug pushers were considerably diminished in number since the 1970s. One fools oneself to think they are not there at all. Their numbers had increased in the 1980s when Union Square Park at Fourteenth Street was &ldquocleaned up&rdquo and relandscaped, following its newfound popularity with the success of the city&rsquos first great Greenmarket. 1 When the drug pushers were pushed out of Fourteenth Street, they just moved south to Washington Square. The law-abiding users of both parks are so plentiful that whatever criminal element exists does not feel threatening. Density and diversity of users, like on a street, are the best enforcement tools.

Probably my favorite park feature remains: the chess players. In the southwest corner of the park are eighteen concrete chess tables, a tradition dating back to 1932 under Mayor La Guardia. Clusters of onlookers can always be found watching their favorite game. This is a fascinating group to watch.

The park has been something of a lightning rod for Village protests&mdash&ldquoeight acres of sociology,&rdquo Gay Talese once called it. The 1970s redesign stirred considerable debate but reflected genuine community involvement. 2 The controversy surrounding the current $16 million redesign, unveiled in 2004, reflects both the increased dominance of NYU and a &ldquohigh-design&rdquo mind-set coming from the Parks Department.

The quintessential gathering place, Washington Square Park&rsquos appeal was always its casual informality. A true neighborhood park, it was never meant to be a showpiece. Comfortable, safe, user-friendly, offering something for all, this park just happens to work. With its assortment of spaces, all manner of spontaneous activity took place here over the years, from roller skating in my youth to Rollerblading now, from pavement chalk games like hopscotch to impromptu guitar-playing songfests. The studying student, chatting neighbors, playing toddlers, dog-walking residents, and drug-pushing intruders all have claimed their space. I remember as a child being aware of the area where drunks hung out. It was to be avoided.

Showing wear and tear in recent years, this park needed some repair and renovation. But when the city unveiled its in-house design for a more formal, somewhat sanitized, and extremely groomed &ldquogreener&rdquo park, the community uproar was to be expected. Villagers understandably assumed the design was done with NYU&rsquos needs in mind (the school is contributing $1 million to the work but claims to have had no input), especially the change in stage design and ground leveling that make the graduation ceremony more comfortable but is officially to make it handicap accessible. (Wheelchairs, however, have been all over this park for years.)

The loudly opposed initial provision for a fence and gates was withdrawn early on. But the equally controversial moving of the 1856 circular fountain remained. Here was a perfect case of an apparent legitimate need for repair of the pipes and underground infrastructure forming the ludicrous rationale for moving the fountain to make the plaza around it symmetrical and aligning the fountain with the Stanford White Arch to gain the view directly up Fifth Avenue! Symmetrical?! One could already see up Fifth Avenue. Ironically, few people even sit on the edge now during warm seasons because the vertical stream of water in the recalibrated fountain is so high, it blows over the edges that were favorite seating spaces.

Unbeknownst to anyone until a Village resident filed a Freedom of Information Act query, the Tisch family agreed to donate $2.5 million to the fountain work and, in exchange, secured the name, the Tisch Fountain. This occurred before the public review process but was not revealed until that process was over.

3.1 The circle fountain in Washington Square Park has been a favorite gathering place forever.

A nineteenth-century landscape orthodoxy is creeping into this and other park designs. The Parks Department&rsquos plan included removal of five of the six much-loved and well-used alcove seating areas, added in the 1970 plan at community urging. Five were to be removed. Local city councilman Alan J. Gerson noted in his strong opposition to this design element: &ldquoInformal group seating, chit-chatting, debating, socializing has been an historic part of the Park. The alcoves and their predecessor corner seating areas in the park&rsquos previous incarnation have long provided the settings for their activities.&rdquo The designer excuse for this alteration, besides the supposed advantage of creating more green space, was that seating capacity for the park was actually being increased. This is a sly numbers game. Benches elsewhere had been removed over the years, but now extra benches were to be added to the walkways. This is not about gathering places this is just about sitting. Numbers don&rsquot reflect use. In the end, four alcoves were retained. This park needed repair, not an overhaul.

The recent controversy over this park&rsquos redesign reflects several issues common in many cities and other neighborhoods it is more than just about parks. The conflict between design for design&rsquos sake versus design to reflect use patterns, the difference between open communication and collaboration with the community and a manipulated form of community participation, the issue of unknown agendas and private interests, all these issues played out here. In fact, they will continue to play out as the phases of the park&rsquos redesign proceed.


This is the park&mdashone of the city&rsquos most storied&mdashthrough which then parks commissioner and master road builder Robert Moses wanted to put a road. Fifth Avenue would extend through it, connecting Upper and Lower Manhattan. Until this proposal in 1956, only the Fifth Avenue buses entered the park to turn around and go back up Fifth Avenue. The avenue was two-way then, as were all streets and avenues until traffic engineers made the priority the acceleration of traffic through cities, instead of within them.

A coalition of Village groups formed in 1956 to kill this plan and, in addition, to ban all traffic from the park. Two housewives, Shirley Hayes and Edith Lyons, started this fight. Jane Jacobs joined the coalition and became its most celebrated leader in the battle against Moses. She would later lead the fight against Moses&rsquos Lower Manhattan Expressway plan a few blocks south of the park. (See next chapter.) But the two battles were inextricably connected, although no one knew it at the time of the park conflict. &ldquoWe found out why it was so important to put the road through Washington Square,&rdquo Jacobs recalled when we discussed the Moses era, &ldquoby seeing an artist&rsquos rendering of it on the wall of the office of the borough president of Manhattan when we went down for something else. The road through the park was to be one of the ramps for the expressway.&rdquo 3

So when the coalition not only wanted to stop the road but ban traffic completely, Moses &ldquohad a fit,&rdquo Jacobs said, because he needed it for his larger expressway plan. &ldquoSo he came up with all kinds of figures about the amount of additional traffic that was going to go around the square,&rdquo she said, &ldquoif this were done and how congested the streets would be.&rdquo Undoubtedly, the idea of limiting traffic capacity instead of increasing it was nothing short of heresy in the era of enlarging automobile capacity everywhere and in every way. Jacobs said: &ldquoMoses was trying to scare people&mdashand he did scare some who lived on the perimeter of the square. He scared them to death about how much traffic would be there. We knew that was nonsense because there wasn&rsquot any room for it. The only way you could get increased traffic was by increasing the road space.&rdquo

The coalition was very crafty in asking for the park&rsquos closure to traffic. They proposed that it be done on a trial basis, to see what would happen. &ldquoWe knew it was perfectly safe to just ask for a trial basis,&rdquo Jacobs said. &ldquoWe knew that if the test were successful, it would become permanent. This was nothing radical really, just a chance to experiment a little.&rdquo Nevertheless, Moses was adamantly opposed. &ldquoMoses and all the city traffic engineers had always opposed doing anything like this anywhere,&rdquo Jacobs said. &ldquoThey told us: &lsquoYou will be back on your knees begging us to put that roadway back because of the inundation of traffic elsewhere.&rsquo We didn&rsquot believe that for a minute. We just said, &lsquoWe&rsquoll try it. This is an experiment.&rsquo&rdquo

Not only did chaos not happen, but no predicted tie-ups occurred around the park. In fact, Jacobs noted, &ldquothere was less traffic. Actual traffic numbers declined where they had been predicted to rise.&rdquo


That &ldquoexperiment&rdquo offered a significant lesson that was never learned and only in recent years has been recognized in the sporadic places around the globe where traffic is being &ldquotamed&rdquo and measured. In 1997 a U.S. study, &ldquoRoad Supply and Traffic in California Urban Areas,&rdquo determined that every 10 percent increase in road capacity was followed by a 9 percent increase in traffic volume within a five-year period.

Cases like this happen all the time with anticipated traffic catastrophes not happening. But this broad insight into traffic behavior came long after the Washington Square road fight. Back then, Jacobs said, &ldquofor the first time, people began to understand that the more provision you make for cars in the city, the more cars and more traffic there will be. You don&rsquot solve the traffic problem by making more provision for cars, with the potential supply of cars utterly inexhaustible.&rdquo


At the time of my conversation with Jacobs in 1978, the proponents of expansion of highways and roads seemed, on the surface at least, to have the cards stacked in their favor, or so it seemed in the press. The idea of saying no to expanded automotive accommodation was still alien to most people. If not alien, the concept just didn&rsquot occur to many people in the 1970s, let alone the 1950s. After more than twenty years of indoctrination in favor of cars, malls, and the suburban lifestyle, people seemed very accepting of this as the norm of the time.

Jacobs disagreed. &ldquoNot really,&rdquo she said in a comment that turned out to be prescient.

It&rsquos running the other way. Time is on our side. There&rsquos more doubt about these things. The fights get harder and harder, more and more widespread. Really, Roberta, if you were my age, you would remember back to 1955 and &rsquo56. It was unheard of to fight a thing like that, and it was unheard of to talk in the kind of terms that educated people now find it perfectly natural to talk in&mdashwhether they agree or disagree about what automobiles do to cities, that they can do harm, and that you would ever stop a road without planning for compensating road space nearby. Those were the terms it was put in: which alternative do you prefer, the road through the park or widening around it? Most people at the time just couldn&rsquot imagine any other alternative.

&ldquoAnd it was Edith Lyons and Shirley Hays,&rdquo Jacobs recalled, &ldquowho sat in the park with their little kids and wondered why they should be stuck with either of these options and why you had to have additional roads for traffic around Washington Square at all. And they were considered crazy women who just didn&rsquot understand the facts of life. &lsquoIsn&rsquot this just like a woman to think that way&rsquo was the attitude.&rdquo They turned it into an enormous community victory. Prominent leaders joined them, like planner Victor Gruen, critic Lewis Mumford, housing advocate Charles Abrams, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Today, thirty years after our conversation, this understanding is almost commonplace. But another lesson that Jacobs noted has not been learned. Traffic engineers then and many now insist that traffic behaves like water. If you narrow the passage for them, bottlenecks and congestion increase. But, as Jacobs noted, that is a theory that does not hold up under scrutiny. Instead, traffic often disappears, as it did in Washington Square. &ldquoThey don&rsquot learn from observation,&rdquo Jacobs noted, &ldquoand they are not curious enough to study what actually did happen to the traffic. 4 Mysteriously, it disappeared, and much conjecture tries to explain it, but no one has actually studied it.&rdquo

The number of cases around the world where a similar phenomenon is observable, that is, diminished space and disappearing traffic, is increasing. This is true whether in San Francisco after the earthquake brought down the Embarcadero or in Milwaukee after an elevated portion of the downtown expressway was removed or in Seattle in 2007 with the partial closure of Interstate 5&mdashdubbed &ldquothe Big Clog&rdquo&mdashwhen dire traffic predictions proved wrong.

Clark Williams-Derry, reporting in the Seattle Times on August 30, 2007, noted that traffic remained &ldquofar better than average, despite slow-downs through the construction zone&rdquo and that people were finding alternative ways to get to work. &ldquoThe main lesson from The Clog That Wasn&rsquot,&rdquo he wrote, &ldquois this: The conventional wisdom about traffic just isn&rsquot right. We tend to think that Seattle commuters are tied to their cars and can&rsquot&mdashor won&rsquot&mdashuse alternative modes of transportation in large numbers. But that notion was just turned on its head. As it turns out commuters are much more adaptable, flexible and wilier than we give them credit for.&rdquo


The one big drawback to the park, the city&rsquos smallest, is the same as it is for the surrounding district. NYU owns or rents so much of everything around it that this historical heart of Greenwich Village is, for all intents and purposes, the NYU campus. As long ago as 1958, an article in the New York Times noted, &ldquoThe park is now in effect a campus shared with tourists and mothers who sun their infants and watch youngsters roller skate on the park pavement.&rdquo 5

&ldquoOverbearing&rdquo is how one park neighbor described NYU&rsquos presence, while ambivalently acknowledging the positive contribution of the students&rsquo youthful presence. &ldquoThe crowd is not the blackstocking crowd of my youth,&rdquo she says, &ldquobut I like their esprit. NYU has made the neighborhood too campuslike, however. They even close the park for graduation.&rdquo In fact, notes another longtime resident, &ldquoNYU is the landlord of so much of the Village that you don&rsquot see the same degree of groundswell of resistance to its continued encroachments. That is the hidden side of the neighborhood now. Too many people are beholden to NYU and thus stay silent.&rdquo

Overbearing is surely the appropriate description for what NYU has become in recent years. Once a good solid commuter school with primarily New York City students, NYU with its fourteen separate schools has now grown to be the largest private university in the country, attracting students from around the world, as much for its top rank as for its New York City locale. After twenty years of expansion and about a dozen new high-rises, NYU owns or occupies one hundred buildings between Sixth and Second Avenues and has become the defining presence. And instead of seeking to develop a secondary campus elsewhere in the city where it might be a welcome, regenerative presence, it continues to expand in place. In 2007, NYU&mdashwith forty thousand students and thirty-one hundred faculty&mdashclaimed a need for another six million square feet of space over twenty-five years.

Many residents of the Village are, of course, concerned that their historic neighborhood character will be subsumed into NYU&rsquos overarching presence. It is not an unfounded concern. In fact, it parallels the concern of many neighborhoods around the city as educational, hospital, and other institutions take advantage of zoning privileges provided &ldquocommunity facilities&rdquo to physically expand in all-consuming ways. Cities across the country, from New Haven to Berkeley, wrestle with this dilemma, especially since urban colleges are a prime student choice nationally these days. Many also have wealthy donors who have been all too happy to have their name on a new building.

While the university is somewhat dispersed around the East Village, its most dominating presence is felt around the park. The Greek Revival row houses on the park&rsquos north side were once the home of John Dos Passos, Edward Hopper, and the social elite. Their elegant, restrained redbrick fronts with white marble entryways and classic fluted columns framing the front doors are beautifully maintained and guarantee the future for one of the park&rsquos most distinctive architectural features. Now most of these designated landmarks house NYU departments. The gracious old apartment houses on the park&rsquos west side, where so many of my childhood friends lived, are also owned by NYU and used for faculty and student housing. Eleanor Roosevelt had her apartment on the top floor of number 29 while her husband was president. I vividly remember walking my dog at the same time she walked her Scottie, Fala. She was very friendly and often stopped to talk as our dogs sniffed each other. I was much too young to be in awe of whom I was chatting with.


On the east side of the park, NYU has converted all the onetime factory buildings into classrooms and other uses. This includes the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirt Waist Fire building, a designated landmark. Some of the buildings have never looked better. Unfortunately, however, insufficienttransparent street-level uses exist in NYU buildings. Ground-floor windows can add or diminish interest where it matters most, on the street. Too many of the university&rsquos ground-floor functions are hidden by painted-over or filled-in windows. What could possibly be happening behind the darkened windows that the passerby should not see? Even mechanical equipment is more interesting to look at than a painted-over window.

The scattered visible activity spaces&mdashan attractive reception hall facing the park, a study area, a cafeteria&mdashsubtly add to the pedestrian experience. They are too few in number. In the suburbs, this would not be noticeable, nor would it matter, since everyone drives by in a car. But in a city, what happens on the ground floor of every building adds to or subtracts from street life. Relating better to the street is vital to NYU and the city.

Street-level windows are probably the most underappreciated, smallest, and least-considered element of urban life. Yet they are the perfect vehicle to reflect local activity, character, and history.

NYU is not alone in missing the opportunity of street-level spaces. New York street life is being nibbled to death all over town, one store window and one ground-floor space at a time. The federal office building near City Hall has solid green glass. The expanded Museum of Modern Art has turned most of Fifty-fourth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues into a solid wall of contemporary, metallic material, deadening the street. Even a few small windowlike openings&mdashoriginally promised&mdashcould make a pedestrian connect to the museum space. This is a prime walking district. Banks, drugstore chains, and assorted uses have dulled the window-gazing experience on many streets.

Ironically, in contrast, one of the best examples of a street-enhancing window use is an NYU one, a few blocks north of Washington Square Park at the corner of Broadway and Ninth Street. &ldquoBroadway Windows,&rdquo a program of the NYU School of Fine Arts, contains rotating exhibits of truly fine student work on the ground floor of a 1920s apartment house. It always grabs my attention. Imagine if windows around the district served as a showcase for student and neighborhood creativity.

The most suburban feature NYU has added in recent years is a truly unfortunate one&mdashthe campus circulating bus. Understandably, many campus universities around the country today have a circulating bus system. On a spread-out, self-contained nonurban campus, this may make sense. But the NYU campus is the city itself. NYU is concentrated in one of the city&rsquos most walkable&mdashand bikable!&mdashdistricts, well served by mass transit. Almost every subway line runs into it. This may not be what out-of-town or suburban students are used to. But the advantages of being here should be demonstrated, not circumvented. As an NYU student, I lived on the Upper West Side and commuted to class by subway and by foot, as did and do thousands of city students. Instinctively, some people say, &ldquoStudents need a quick way to get from one class to the next when distance is a problem.&rdquo Well, it is doubtful that the bus is where every student needs it to be at the appointive time and going lickety-split, nonstop, to that student&rsquos next class. In fact, most of the time that I observe this circulating bus, it has only a few passengers. Walking is probably more direct and faster, biking even better.


One of the big Village controversies in recent years was NYU&rsquos destruction in 2000 of the 1835 redbrick house in which Edgar Allan Poe lived when he published his poem &ldquoThe Raven.&rdquo The unadorned Poe House was located on the West Third block between Sullivan and Thompson Streets. On the west end was Judson House, originally three separate Greek Revival houses that were merged and redesigned in the 1890s by McKim, Mead, and White. Judson House backed up to the landmark Judson Church facing the park, also designed by McKim, Mead, and White, one of the country&rsquos most important historic architectural firms.

This unassuming stretch of four- to six-story mustard and redbrick buildings was a quintessential urban block, representing varied building types, styles, and periods built over time. Such physical variety, when not totally occupied by one user, invites assorted economic uses on which a diverse city economy depends. The loss of this undesignated but landmark-worthy block was yet another clear diminishment of the Village&rsquos historic character. The four-story law school replacement is at best an ordinary design with an unmistakable institutional look.

A very public fight arose around NYU&rsquos planned demolition of the Poe House. NYU rationalized that it had been heavily altered over time, something that can be said of many restorable landmarks. Yet it still reflected what Henry James described as the &ldquoestablished repose&rdquo of the once fashionable Federal and Greek Revival row houses built when the area was first developed in the 1830s. NYU argued that the loss was necessary for its survival. Many institutions make the same argument when, instead, they could be creatively weaving such landmarks into their institutional future, as well as the city&rsquos.

In a letter to the editor published in the New York Times on July 27, 2000, E. L. Doctorow, who teaches English literature at NYU, wrote, &ldquoNYU has consistently recognized and celebrated its connection to the historic literary culture of Greenwich Village. How uncharacteristic of this great university that it now wants to raze this . . . small house that is very suggestive of the writer&rsquos perpetually straitened circumstances. I wonder why plans can&rsquot be drawn to build the school around, above and behind it. This sort of thing has been done elsewhere when architects have been faced with a historic but inconvenient structure.&rdquo Also in a letter to the editor, Woody Allen noted that &ldquosurely it can be worked out in a way that does not destroy yet another piece of this fast-vanishing area.&rdquo

The judge who ruled in the university&rsquos favor in a lawsuit brought to stop the Poe House demolition nevertheless took the university to task, noting, &ldquoAs a leading academic institution where Poe&rsquos cadences are still heard . . . NYU would seem to be the natural guardian of the Poe House. . . . From a historical, cultural and literary point of view, Poe House should stand.&rdquo

Subsequently, in negotiations with community and preservation groups, the university agreed to reconstruct the facade of the house as it appeared in the nineteenth century, using salvaged original bricks, lintels, cornices, and other materials. Even this concession was not fulfilled. &ldquoThere were not enough usable bricks,&rdquo a spokesman claimed in all seriousness. Instead, a silly rendition in new brick of the historic building was incorporated into the ground floor of the new block-long building, a few doors away from the historic site. This fake is not even worthy of Colonial Williamsburg.

Judson Memorial Church is all that remains of the south side of Washington Square Park. Philip Johnson&rsquos hulking red-sandstone Bobst Library built by NYU in 1960 flanks the east end the mock-colonial law school flanks the west end. In between is NYU&rsquos thirteen-story Kimmel Center, built in 2003. Ironically, NYU promotional material still offers the opportunity to live in &ldquoGreenwich Village, one of NYC&rsquos most creative and energetic communities and a historic mecca for generations of world renowned artists, writers and scholars.&rdquo

In NYU&rsquos favor, it must be said, is its overall respect for the urbanism and the street grid of its locale. NYU and Greenwich Village are woven into each other around the university buildings. This, of course, is ensured because of the Historic District designation regulated by the Landmarks Commission. And even though it has effectively transformed the community in which it resides, NYU never tried to change the street patterns to make it feel like a private enclave. A visitor does not know the extent of NYU&rsquos dominance. One feels comfortable coming into it or passing through. The same cannot be said for Columbia University&rsquos planned expanded campus, as will be further explored later in this book.


While NYU clearly dominates the east side of Greenwich Village, it has had no visible impact on the West Village. Cross Sixth Avenue and you feel transplanted back into the historical Village of small stores, one-of-a-kind boutiques, walk-up apartments, restaurants, cafés, and unpredictable happenings. The West Village, with its textbook array of historic architecture, misses the aesthetic unity of scores of the city&rsquos historic residential and industrial districts. It does, however, have a different sort of unity. Here, the art of architecture is found in the treasured old, not the fashionable new. Housing costs have skyrocketed, but the resident population remains diverse in all ways. The content of the diversity is not the same&mdashno longshoremen, more blacks&mdashbut varied nonetheless.

&ldquoThe West Village has done very well,&rdquo Jane observed on a visit in 2004. &ldquoIf other city neighborhoods had done as well there would not be as much trouble in many cities. There are too few neighborhoods as successful right now so that the supply doesn&rsquot nearly meet the demand. So they are just gentrifying in the most ridiculous way. They are crowding out everybody except people with exorbitant amounts of money, which is a symptom that demand for such a neighborhood outstrips the supply by far.&rdquo

One of the most interesting sites is right on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Third Street. Until 1927 Sixth Avenue ran from Central Park West to a short distance north of here at Carmine Street. In that year, the city blasted away tenements to continue Sixth Avenue south. A few little wedge-shaped pieces of empty space remained, such as a small asphalt lot enclosed by a chain-link fence with several handball and basketball courts that daily host some of the most serious competitions in the city. Not just anyone gets to play there, and sport scouts reportedly come by looking for talent. This is one of those serendipitous urban activities that spring up where space just allows it to happen&mdashnever organized, never formalized, but eventually institutionalized in its own urban way. A busy subway entrance sits on this corner. I pass there frequently, but I never go by that a large crowd is not gathered to watch.

Throughout the West Village, small change continues to unfold but sometimes with large impacts. The stretch of Bleecker Street west of Seventh Avenue, during the recent economic boom, was transformed into chic and upscale retail. It has long been fashionable, but somehow the presence of national retailers seems to many people to be more dramatic. But nothing has been torn down to make this happen, and the talked-about transformation may be more of a perception than a reality. The large retail chains can&rsquot dominate. Landmarks and zoning limits deny demolition of walls between buildings for expansion of the ground floor to create the huge spaces that supersize national chains require. Most important, when each phase passes, as it inevitably does, the historic fabric will house the next wave of retail chic that is always looking for modest, affordable street-level space. Natural urban shifts unfold this way.

For the most part, small businesses&mdashparticularly family-owned ones&mdashdo well there because the tiny store sizes work well for them and because Village residents are especially appreciative of the convenience of having them and can be very loyal customers.


Bleecker Street has long been the most interesting and probably best-known commercial street, but Eighth Street, from Sixth Avenue to Fifth Avenue, was the location for more of life&rsquos essentials when I was growing up: the grocery store, pharmacy, delicatessen, butcher, and my father&rsquos dry-cleaning store. Comfortably mixed in was a second-generation family-owned jeweler, a leather crafter of citywide renown, a jewelry designer, and an art store. Eighth Street was a center as well of Village artistic and intellectual life. The Washington Square Book Shop was a literary beacon. The Eighth Street Playhouse staged cutting-edge plays and later became an art-film house. The Whitney Museum was founded on this street in 1931 and stayed until it moved uptown in 1948. The Studio School with Hans Hoffmann at the helm was also an important art center. Many artists lived above the stores along Eighth Street or nearby. The street was the epicenter for the New York School of artists in the 1950s.

By the 1960s, drugs and fast-paced tourism took their toll. By the 1970s, most of the individually owned stores and cultural sites had closed, and the local character was completely gone. Eighth Street continued to get worse. Cheap shoe stores, head shops, and low-end clothing invaded like locusts and endured right up to the turn of the new century. The Eighth Street Playhouse, its facade gone, is now a cheap dollar store.

A few good things have occurred, however, and indications point to a slow but sure turnaround, especially with new restaurants opening. Barnes & Noble replaced Nathan&rsquos fast-food hot-dog chain. A few years ago, a merchant group organized a business improvement district. Store upgrades are concentrated on the east side of Fifth Avenue. But west of Fifth, the sidewalk is widened, traffic is calmed, new historic-style lampposts are installed, and various events promote the positive qualities of the street. The balance between pedestrian and car is better, and people feel less pushed aside. A Belgian sandwich shop with fresh baguettes, pastries, and coffee opened on the west corner of Fifth Avenue, the first new sign that upgrading is moving westward. An upscale restaurant opened next door to my father&rsquos former store. Other new and better uses are sure to follow. Ironically, the current economic collapse has shuttered many more of the cheap shoe stores, leaving several vacancies. What will replace them when the economy turns around will be interesting to see.

For me, the Village has mostly been defined by the geography of my own experience growing up there and then attending NYU. And while Washington Square Park is central to all of it and NYU is the overarching presence, the Village is really an assortment of very distinct enclaves with a history and character different from each other.

As Jane Jacobs observed about Greenwich Village years ago in conversation, &ldquoIt is not small. In fact, it is a pretty big district. Parts were always considered better than others and all different. The South Village was heavily Italian and before that I guess mainly Irish. That area was considered bad. Sullivan Street is considered very chic now, but I remember when it was just teeming with poor children and tenements, so I suppose it was considered bad.&rdquo

Jacobs had moved to the Village with her sister in 1934, selecting it because &ldquoshe found so many people walking in such a purposeful way and so many interesting stores and activities to observe.&rdquo This iconic neighborhood became the incubator for her ideas. It was a study area, a laboratory. She observed the different elements that added up to vibrancy in city life. She recognized the same characteristics in other vibrant neighborhoods, large and small, and assembled them into a web of related precepts. &ldquoOf course, the West Village where I lived was considered bad,&rdquo Jacobs said. &ldquoWe didn&rsquot know it when we moved here, fortunately, but it had been designated a slum to be cleared first way back in the 1930s when Rexford Tugwell, who would become one of Roosevelt&rsquos &lsquobrain trusters,&rsquo was chairman of the Planning Commission.&rdquo But one official&rsquos slum can be someone&rsquos definition of a good neighborhood to live in. And the Village has always drawn a place-proud population.


Parallel to the Hudson along the West Side Highway and a few blocks inland are the West Village Houses built in the mid-1970s. This complex could serve as a national model of everything that was wrong in postwar development policies and everything that is right when community sensibilities prevail. A community fight there defeated the Robert Moses Urban Renewal Plan&mdashapparently, the first defeat nationwide of an urban renewal plan&mdashthat would have wiped out the entire fourteen square blocks of historic urban fabric filled with owner-occupied, well-maintained one-and two-family houses, tenements, and individual buildings. All had been restored with private money. But it was designated a &ldquoslum,&rdquo a necessary official step to qualify for urban renewal money. Residents and businesses in the area knew it wasn&rsquot a slum. They thought well enough of the area, in fact, even with its service and physical limitations, to remain there, open businesses, and invest money. &ldquoThe people in the Village had watched urban renewal around the city with its waste and profiteering vandalism,&rdquo Jacobs recalled.

So much land was being taken, and so much was being lost. The West Village people understood the negative impact all these plans were having on the city.

The sin of the Village was that it had all these mixed uses. All the manufacturing buildings were to be demolished and replaced with high-rises. There would be a little enclave left of all the most expensive and aesthetically appealing houses. The rest would go. Now all those former manufacturing buildings are turned into the most expensive lofts in the city. These people, even the real estate experts, they didn&rsquot know from nothing. They were so ignorant, not just about what they were destroying but what people would like.

The term slum is very subjective, differing according to who is using it. Poor conditions in an area may be due more to a lack of municipal services than anything else, as we will see throughout this book. A few buildings may be in need of repair or even in danger of imminent collapse. Some may be fire hazards, or abandoned and run-down. None of these individual conditions should qualify an entire area as a slum, especially when renovation and new infill options have not been explored. More than anything else, the terms slum or blight reflect the motivation of the people using them. 6 All of this was clear in the fight against the West Village Urban Renewal Plan.

A survey of the area, for example, revealed the presence of 1,765 residents, including 710 families, plus warehouses, truck depots, and mom-and-pop businesses. More than 80 businesses employed hundreds of people. In fact, this designation of &ldquoslum&rdquo was not too different from the designation applied to many other city neighborhoods declared &ldquoblighted&rdquo and cleared by Moses in the name of slum clearance. &ldquoWe took Lester Eisner, regional administrator for the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency, on a tour so he would learn what the community was really made of,&rdquo recalled Jacobs, who led the resistance. 7 &ldquoIt convinced him this was not a slum. He was floored, couldn&rsquot believe the great range of incomes. He said it was wonderful. But this is the secret he told us: Never tell anyone what you would like. As soon as you do, you will be judged a participating citizen. You&rsquore hooked, trapped. They can ignore you. Eisner alerted us to this. People in New York never knew why we were only so negative. Wagner eventually decided the urban slum designation had to be lifted.&rdquo

One of the brilliant things about Jane but little acknowledged was that she believed in and followed smart tactics that she often learned from observing others. She came across as very confrontational and anticompromise, all of which had a purpose. But in this anecdote she reveals that the lesson learned from Eisner was to resist saying what you want until what you don&rsquot want is defeated. Jacobs also believed that it was vital to cultivate your own constituency instead of trying to persuade opponents.

3.2 The Little Red Schoolhouse on Bleecker Street with the expansion into the smaller brick building next door. My elementary school and still a great one.

After the defeat of the Moses Urban Renewal Plan, the successful citizens group the West Village Committee, led by Jacobs, hired its own architect and promulgated its own plan and design for new housing. A basic, modest-scale apartment-house configuration was designed to flexibly fill in the district&rsquos vacant lots, avoiding any demolition or displacement. &ldquoNot a single person&mdashnot a single sparrow&mdashshall be displaced&rdquo was their slogan. The result is an assortment of plain redbrick five- and six-story walk-up apartment houses of different shapes and sizes and three different layouts with an occasional corner store on the ground floor. 8

The planning establishment hated this proposal because it was initiated by the community and left intact the organically evolved mixture of residential and commercial uses. &ldquoWe hired Perkins and Will, not a New York City firm, so they wouldn&rsquot be blackballed for working with us as all city architects feared,&rdquo Jacobs explained. &ldquoThe West Village Committee was totally self-organized. Anything self-organized is inimical to planners who want control. The city was furious. We had an informant in the Planning Office who told us what was said: &lsquoIf we let this neighborhood plan for itself, all will want to do it too.&rsquo Planners always pick control over spontaneity. If one believes things can happen spontaneously and work well, it diminishes the importance of planners.&rdquo

City officials, especially then housing and development administrator Roger Starr, did everything possible to strip the design of appealing amenities. He succeeded, nibbling away at the design in every little way possible. It was twelve years of delays. Costs escalated. The result is bare-bones architecture. Yet a waiting list of potential renters existed from the day it opened. Architecture critic Michael Sorkin has written, &ldquoWest Village Houses fits unobtrusively within the intimate weave of its surroundings. It&rsquos a model piece of urbanism because of this careful integration because its architectural expression is not treated as a big, determining deal and because it grew out of the self-organizing impetus to provide new and better housing for people of modest means for whom the market had little empathy.&rdquo

The West Village Houses are probably the country&rsquos first and most significant example of genuine infill housing design. Today, the &ldquoinfill&rdquo description is inappropriately applied to whole blocks of new developments on cleared land inserted into existing neighborhoods, often like an alien species introduced among the natives. Genuine infill is inserted in spaces within a block, not in substitution for a block. However, neither the West Village Houses&rsquo infill value nor other innovations were ever spotlighted by critics, professionals, or professors for the lessons they illustrated. Thus, most people are unaware that it was probably the first successful community-designed challenge to the conventional planning and development policies of the day. 9

West Village Houses started as a moderate-income Mitchell-Lama rental under a program conceived in the 1950s as a solution to a shortage of low- and middle-income apartments. Named after State Senator Mac-Neil Mitchell and Assemblyman Alfred Lama, the 1955 law offered owners and landlords tax breaks and favorable loan terms in return for keeping rents within the range of low- and middle-income tenants. It also permitted owners to &ldquobuy out&rdquo of the program by paying off the mortgage and other debts after twenty to forty years, depending on the date and type of project. Once the developments exit the program, they can either go to market rate or go under rent stabilization, unless successfully challenged by owners.

In 2007, the tenants of West Village Houses successfully organized to buy the buildings from the landlord who was planning to opt out of the program. After four years of negotiation with the landlord, the deal struck by the tenants to convert to a cooperative and rental mix guaranteed no evictions for tenants, a twelve-year period of rent restraints (rent stabilized), the right of tenants to buy their apartments at an insider price, the right of the new owner to sell the 10 vacant units out of the total 420 at market rate, and a guarantee new buyers would meet the federal middle-income standard. Other sensible terms were provided, but suffice it to say that this represents a reasonable compromise that affords the owner a fair profit without losing the larger city value as a middle-income enclave.

In recent years, the city has been losing too many Mitchell-Lama middle-income apartments. From 1990 to 2005, the surviving number of rental units developed under this program dropped from 67,000 to 44,000, according to the Community Service Society. And according to the magazine City Limits, another 3,691 apartments were lost in 2006 alone.

If its success had been recognized, West Village Houses could have become a model for other Mitchell-Lama projects that were privatized after the legislated thirty- to forty-year period, especially the large-scale ones like Stuyvesant Town, the thirty-five redbrick buildings in typical housing-project style with 8,757 units on East Fourteenth Street and First Avenue that were privatized a few years ago. 10 The privatization of Mitchell-Lama units is one of the significant causes of the recent loss of middle-income housing units all over the city.


Just west of the West Village Houses along the Hudson River waterfront is, perhaps, one of the most interesting districts in the Village and the city. Perhaps I should say &ldquowas,&rdquo since so much has been lost in recent years. Presumably, the far West Village was omitted from the first Greenwich Village historic district in 1969 because of continuing hope among some public officials of pushing through the urban renewal and West Side Highway widening schemes. In a 1963 letter to the Landmarks Commission promoting the inclusion of these westernmost streets, Jacobs noted, &ldquoFrom its beginnings, the old river-landing settlement combined work, residence and transportation, and these activities, while local were not provincial. They all had ties, in part, to the larger settlement of New York. With truly remarkable integrity and fidelity, this historic land use persists today: work, residence and transportation, with very similar links and the same quality of being local but unprovincial.&rdquo

Nevertheless, this veritable heart of the city and country&rsquos economic beginnings&mdashthe locus of activity that shaped the larger Village&mdashwas omitted. Not much change occurred, however, in the years in the 1970s and &rsquo80s during the fight over Westway, the highway-expansion scheme. Everything was on hold, anticipating the government buyout for the highway. But once that scheme was killed, speculators took a new look and started buying, demolishing, or renovating and slowly rebuilding.

Three highly publicized and aesthetically appealing sixteen-story glass towers designed by architect Richard Meier now sit amid the remaining intimately scaled nineteenth-century houses, stables, and maritime hotels. Yet the Greenwich Village Historic Society, aggressively pushing the Landmarks Commission to expand the historic district, noted that the area still contained fifty-five nineteenth-century buildings as well as dozens of period factories, warehouses, mills, and bakeries. Correctly, the GVHS argued that this area&rsquos &ldquogritty and more heterogeneous architecture was mistakenly consigned to the dustbin of preservation history when it was overlooked for inclusion&rdquo in the historic district. However, since one of the commission&rsquos guidelines devalues areas that have been substantially altered over time, the commission was slow to respond.


In 2003, shortly after Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office, I was asked by Deputy Mayor Patti Harris to serve as a commissioner on the Landmarks Preservation Commission. When I went on the commission, Jane was skeptical at first but then agreed it would be a worthwhile thing for me to do. Subsequently, she urged that I promote the designation of this &ldquomost interesting and historically illuminating and valuable part of Greenwich Village.&rdquo In a letter to me for transmittal to the Landmarks Commission, she wrote:

For many people, like the New Urbanists for instance, the important ideas of mixed uses, functional diversity, and self-organization and organic adaptability are little more than trendy planning and design fashions, susceptible to being used inauthentically and meaninglessly . . . [but] the far west village . . . is the authentic seed bed and nursery of these qualities in Manhattan, beginning in colonial times and persisting thereafter. It may well be the most important historical area of New York, for that reason. It was the place of origin of many of the city&rsquos important industries, such as machine manufacturing, food preserving, publishing and printing, to name a few, and . . . remnants of this history persist there, still appropriately very mixed, along with evidence of trains and adaptations. Even the roots of the meat market district itself were there.

It has been overlooked and undervalued, I think, precisely because it has never been considered trendy, like the meat market district in recent times and the Henry James rowhouses and the bohemian village before the meat market. But it is something better than trendy. It is authentic. It was deeply influential. It will be a great pity if its remaining witness and evidence are wiped away in favor of towers with expensive views, empty of history . . . I beg of you, don&rsquot let this happen . . . .

The far West Village was designated a week after Jacobs died in April 2006.


Greenwich Village is a microcosm of the city, an assortment of very different communities in close proximity to one another. The East Village is the most different from the rest of the Village, and it is here that some of the precursors of regeneration were first occurring in the 1970s, as noted earlier regarding the Cooper Square Committee and other citizen-based efforts.

Like the South Bronx in the 1970s, officially no one cared. And no one paid attention to the small things happening in the East Village. No money was available anyway to do a Moses-style renewal on an area best known for high crime and deteriorating housing. Slumlords predominated. City services were almost nonexistent. With a history of Irish, German, East European, and Hispanic immigrants, the East Village defied easy categorizing. Pockets of social and economic energy, however, produced an almost sub-rosa vitality to which mainstream New Yorkers were oblivious, unless, of course, they dared venture forth to dine at vintage East European restaurants or delicatessens or attend a performance at the avant-garde La Mama or one of the offbeat music venues. St. Mark&rsquos Place was as far east as most venturers would go, where Yoko Ono performed at the Bridge Theater or Andy Warhol presented the Velvet Underground at the Dom, formerly a Polish entertainment hall. Beats, hippies, punks, and postpunks all settled or passed through here. Artists found studios. Galleries followed. Music venues appeared everywhere.

It is here&mdashin empty lots&mdashthat the Green Guerillas launched the community garden movement that is today international in scope. The city under Mayor Giuliani auctioned some off to private developers, but after an intense, contentious battle and the intervention of philanthropists, some of those locally created parks survived and are now overseen by the Parks Department. Squatters took over city-owned abandoned buildings that the city had no program or money to deal with. A variety of community-based efforts evolved and were replicated in derelict neighborhoods around the city, as mentioned in chapter 1.

The tag East Village was meant to clearly distinguish the area from the rest of Greenwich Village. So far, except for incursions by NYU, the East Village has been spared much of the march of high-rise development so visible elsewhere in the city. This predominantly tenement district has also been spared an excessive proliferation of mass retailers, primarily due to the small scale of most of its retail spaces and a lower population density than found in areas of large-scale apartment houses. As such, it remains an incubator for fledgling designers of all kinds looking for small and cheap space to test their new offerings. Like the rest of Greenwich Village, this ever-changing enclave has its share of community activists willing to take on the large-scale forces that could bring corrosive, not productive, change.

If history had taken a different turn and the community had been less vigilant, all of Greenwich Village, East and West, would be a completely different place today. Instead, it is both different, reflecting many small changes, and the same, its basic physical, social, and economic fabric intact. The economic and social mix is not as diverse, but this is a citywide phenomenon visible in many neighborhoods, not just a Village issue.

Jane Jacobs is probably most popularly known for writing about the Village, especially Hudson Street, where she lived. Too many people make the mistake of defining her observations there as advocacy for the replication of its small-scale and &ldquoquaint&rdquo mixtures. This could not be further from the truth. It was not about tall buildings versus short, modernist versus Federalist, loft versus residential, small business versus large. The Village was her laboratory to observe the larger truths about urban life. Hers was not a prescription of what should happen but an observation of whatdoeshappen when certain genuine urban conditions exist. In all her writing, she used specific examples to illustrate observable truths, never intending them to be prescriptive. In her description above about the importance of the undesignated portion of the Village, she referred to &ldquothe important ideas of mixed uses, functional diversity, and self-organization and organic adaptability.&rdquo In this case she was referring to the Village, but she applied those ideas to many urban areas that look nothing like the Village.

Each area of the Village offers lessons applicable elsewhere in the city and beyond. These are lessons from community-based resistance to inappropriate change or from successful community-based solutions to real, not manufactured, challenges and problems. But none of the Village battles or victories compare to the next area in the spotlight, SoHo.

New York

New York is a metropolis, it has an energy like no other place on the planet. There are so many colorful neighborhoods that contain an astonishing variety of cultures. The people, the places, the food and the arts are just some of the reasons why The Big Apple is at the top of every traveler's checklist. It is impossible to see and do everything, therefore I would like to share my personal favorites to help guide you through Gotham.

New York has five boroughs (The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island), each one has its own personality, background and history. I will be focusing mostly on Manhattan, so purchase your subway MetroCard and let's go for a ride. Manhattan can basically be divided into three sections: Downtown, Midtown and Uptown. Each section of town consists of several smaller areas or neighborhoods. It all depends on the individual's personality and interests on where to explore. Some might like the excitement of Wall Street and Lower Manhattan while others might prefer the laid back atmosphere of Greenwich Village or SoHo (south of Houston Street - pronounced "how stun"). For a more quiet experience one might enjoy the Upper East or Upper West Side. Times Square and Midtown are always bustling with people and this area is often many visitor's introduction to the city.

Times Square serves as a nerve center of activity in the city. It's brash and busy, but no trip to New York would be complete without a visit to the site of the annual ball drop on New Year's Eve - a tradition which began on December 31, 1907. This area is also home to the best known Broadway Theaters, such as the Majestic (The Phantom Of The Opera) on W 44th Street. Next, make your way over to the city's most famous skyscraper - The Empire State Building. Opened in 1931, it is an American cultural icon. It has 102 floors and provides an awesome view from the observation deck. If the lines are long, look into the express pass which gets you to the top much quicker. After doing your own King Kong on the ESB head over to Grand Central Station on E 42nd Street. It might be a train station, but it is quite a beautiful one. The Beaux Arts terminal celebrated its centennial in 2013 and is well worth a visit. Be sure to look up at the elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling. It is one of the nation's most historic landmarks and to my knowledge remains the busiest train station in the country.

Escape the crowds (kind of) and make your way up to Central Park. With 840 acres including nearly 50 bridges, fountains, monuments and sculptures this man made wonder might well be the most famous park in the world. It offers art, recreation and traditional activities, such as the carousel and carriage rides in summer and ice skating in winter. Take a break on the Great Lawn, snap a picture in front of Bethesda Fountain or bark with the sea lions at the Zoo. My favorite spot in Central Park is Strawberry Fields. Located just off W 72nd Street, this memorial to John Lennon is often called the "international garden of peace." Sit beside the black and white Imagine mosaic set into the pavement and sing along with others gathered to your favorite Beatles songs. Across the street at the Dakota apartment building is where John lived and where he was tragically murdered on Monday December 8, 1980.

From there jump on the subway (take the 1 train to Christopher Street) and head down to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. This landmark was once a cemetery and the site of public executions. Today it is the spiritual center of The Village where you will find NYU students, street musicians, skateboarders and chess players doing their thing. Chill by the large central fountain and gaze upon the triumphal Washington Memorial Arch. It was erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of George Washington's presidential inauguration. Head west to Gansevoort Street and one of NYC's coolest parks, The High Line. First opened in 2009 and over a mile long, it is built on an elevated section of an abandoned New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. Stroll along The High Line and be sure to visit some of the areas top attractions: the Meatpacking District, Chelsea Market and the newly opened Hudson Yards, home of The Shed and the eye catching Vessel.

Next, make your way east over to the epicenter of activity - Union Square. It has a long history of serving locals as a favorite gathering place. Its Greenmarket offers produce from area farmers and every holiday season the Union Square Holiday Market is a festive experience. Jump on the subway below the square (take the 6 train to Spring Street) and head down to SoHo. This is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, featuring an incredible variety of trendy boutiques, great art galleries and stylish cafes. In addition, there is some wonderful architecture and still a few cobblestone streets left. With its avant-garde atmosphere, SoHo is one of the hippest places in the city.

For a genuine New York experience, hail one of its infamous taxi cabs and head to Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. No one will ever forget the morning of September 11, 2001 when a terrorist attack brought down The Twin Towers and took away thousands of innocent lives. The 9/11 Memorial which honors the lives of those lost occupies several acres at The World Trade Center and serves as a tribute to the past and hope for the future. The names of every victim are inscribed around the twin memorial pools. Now standing is the Freedom Tower, the largest building in America towering at 1,776 feet.

For the history buffs like myself, take the ferry from the Southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park for a tour of Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Presented to the United States in 1886 as a gift from France (merci) and standing 151 feet high, the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom and democracy. Between 1892 and 1924 approximately 12 million men, women and children first set foot on American soil at the Ellis Island federal immigration facility. In 1990 it reopened as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which is divided into four major exhibit areas with numerous galleries containing artifacts, photographs and recorded oral histories. The centerpiece of the museum is the Great Hall. At the American Family Immigration Center you can search the records for your own ancestors and outside is the American Immigrant Wall of Honor, which has the names of more than 600,000 immigrant Americans against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline and Lady Liberty. Staying on the water, two other options are the Circle Line Cruise and the Staten Island Ferry. The full island cruise circumnavigates Manhattan island and takes about three hours. You really do get to see a lot in a short amount of time. The other option is the Staten Island Ferry out of Battery Park. It is free and you get fantastic views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island during the thirty minute ride across New York Harbor.

If you prefer staying off your feet when returning to land on Manhattan, Gray Line Sightseeing runs several hop on - hop off double decker bus tours. It's another great way to see a lot of the sights while not exhausting yourself. On the other hand, if you're up for a walk get yourself over to explore the East Village and the Lower East Side. There's a cool artistic vibe in the East Village around Tompkins Square Park and along St Marks Place. The Lower East Side (LES) has a rad nightlife scene, especially around Orchard, Ludlow and Rivington Streets. Another essential New York experience is to walk across its most famous bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge. It connects the island of Manhattan to the borough of Brooklyn. Throughout Brooklyn you'll find a distinct culture that features some of New York's most creative restaurants, galleries and activities. Check out the hip vibe in Williamsburg (Rough Trade on 9th Street is a great independent record store) or view the beautiful brownstones in Park Slope.

I have saved the best for last and would now like to discuss my favorite museums in New York. Let's start with the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere and one of the best in the world - The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). Located on 5th Avenue (take the 4,5,6 train to 86th Street), it has more than two million works of art representing five thousand years of history. Plan to spend at least half a day exploring the colossal museum taking a tour with a staff curator can save you time and show you some of the collection's hidden gems. Do not miss the following paintings: Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze and Wheat Field with Cypresses by Vincent van Gogh. Other highlights include the sculpture Perseus with the Head of Medusa and the wall tapestry The Lamentation. One of the most popular destinations in the museum is the Temple of Dendur. Dating back circa 15 BC, the temple is located in a large atrium with a moatlike pool of water to represent its original location near the river Nile in Egypt. Before leaving, check out the American Wing for one of the best collections of American art in the country. Just up the street on 5th Ave is the spectacular Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this landmark is renowned as much for its famous architecture as for its marvelous collection of art. Opened in 1959, the Guggenheim is acclaimed as one of the greatest buildings of the twentieth century. Inside, under a 92 foot high glass dome, a ramp spirals down past the artworks of Picasso, Chagall and Matisse. Staying on 5th Ave, head south to E 70th Street and the Frick Collection. Housed in Henry Clay Frick's former New York residence, this lovely museum displays masterpieces by Manet, Vermeer and Rembrandt. Next, cross Central Park to the West Side of Manhattan and arrive at the American Museum of Natural History at W 79th Street. The largest natural history museum in the world is also one of the most impressive sights in New York. It holds more than thirty million artifacts from the land, sea and outer space. From dinosaur and mammal fossils to reptiles, primates and ocean life, this place has something for everyone. Be sure to see the African Mammals gallery and the 94 foot model of a blue whale that is suspended from the ceiling. On your way out pass by the statue of the man responsible for it all, Theodore Roosevelt. I highly recommend a visit to the adjoining Rose Center for Earth and Space / Hayden Planetarium - the Space Theater displays a super realistic view of the planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. The map of the cosmos, known as the Digital Universe Atlas is far out. From there, make your way down to W 53rd Street and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Lines are usually long so purchase tickets online before you arrive. There are many famous works here and some of my favorites include: Monet's Water Lilies, Picasso's Les Demoiselles dɺvignon, van Gogh's Starry Night, Dali's The Persistence of Memory, Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl, Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans and Pollock's One, Number 31, 1950. Finally, head down to the new Whitney Museum of American Art (the Whitney) on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District (end of the High Line). Opened in 2015, this airy new building features greatly expanded galleries and balconies with excellent views.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sometimes Things Work Out Right . . .

Two years ago, the Battle of Washington Hose was in full pelt. Charlie Davi came to nearly every Common Council meeting, alternately wheedling and raging, driven by his frustrated desire to buy Washington Hose and turn it into a firehouse-themed ice cream parlor and fast-food restaurant. Four aldermen (Carrie Haddad, Chris Wagoner, Ellen Thurston, and I) steadfastly maintained that, because of the building's location at the entrance to Promenade Hill, the City needed to retain control of Washington Hose in order to realize its long-term goals for the waterfront. Called by some "the Gang of Four," we succeeded in blocking the sale to Davi and were vilified for it. One of us received hate mail so vicious it was turned over to the police. Another was pursued up Warren Street by a harsh-voiced former alderman who demanded repeatedly, even after an answer had been offered, "What you are going to do with it? Huh? Huh?"

But all's well that ends well. Two years later, Davi has opened his business in the old Dairy Queen building on Green Street, where he was the last franchise owner. Buying that building and readying it for business undoubtedly required far less of an investment than doing the same for Washington Hose, and the business doesn't face the challenge of having to be a destination all by itself. It's on the way to so many places. Now that summer's here, it's rare to drive by there without seeing people at the window placing orders or sitting under the tents enjoying their food. On a recent evening, Mayor Scalera was spotted there after a Common Council meeting.

And the future is bright for Washington Hose as well. The City will retain ownership of the building but is granting a long-term lease to HDC, which will use its resources to restore the building. Respected preservation architect Kate Johns has been engaged for the project. When the building is ready for occupancy--which is anticipated to be February 2011--HDC will share the space with the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, and, in addition to office space for the two agencies, the building will become a visitors' center. The vision for Washington Hose includes turning the plaza area beside the building into a kind of pushcart mall that will attract visitors and give people with a good idea for a retail business or product the chance to try it out with minimum investment and risk.

Sometimes things do work out for the best.

Sometimes They Don't

On April 27, I reported with considerable relief that the persistent rumor that the last surviving building of the Hudson River Knitting Mill complex (a.k.a. River Lofts or the Bentley Meeker buildings) was to be sold and demolished had no foundation in fact. Questioned after the April meeting of the Common Council Economic Development Committee, Peter Markou, executive director of the Hudson Development Corporation, said there were no plans to sell the building and it was his intention to rehab the building and use it as perhaps a year-round indoor greenmarket, a business incubator, or both. He assured me that even if the building were to be sold, it would be sold with restrictive covenants that ensured its restoration and reuse and prohibited its demolition.

That was then this is now. Last week, Markou told me that the HDC Board had, the previous day, voted unanimously to put the building on the market. The asking price is $499,000. When I asked about restrictive covenants, I didn't get a definitive answer.

The HDC Board is made up of Steven Anderson, Lori Selden, Seth Rapport, and the following elected officials: Mayor Scalera Don Moore, Common Council President Dick Goetz, Common Council Minority Leader and Ellen Thurston, Common Council Majority Leader.

Getting It Right

It's been brought to my attention that I made a couple mistakes in my reports on meetings having to do with the LWRP last week, so I will endeavor now to correct them.

Legal Committee Meeting
When Sam Pratt brought up the October 2005 letter from Nancy Welsh, his point in doing so was to remind everyone that this document, which rejected the February 2004 draft of the LWRP and made very specific recommendations for revision, asserted that the LWRP needed to be revised in light of the 2005 Daniels decision on SLC's Greenport Project and the Common Council's rejection of the host agreement with SLC/Holcim. Here is the relevant excerpt from Welsh's letter. The entire letter can be found here.

Ch. 2 Pg 33, first full paragraph
In describing the SLC parcel, this section reads: "This entire area, which represents the largest single property in private ownership in the coastal area, is zoned for industrial use (I-1). The I-1 District permits a wide variety of industrial, wholesale and commercial uses. It does not permit public or commercial recreation uses, especially those which require a waterfront location, or residential uses which might be enhanced by such a site." This statement leads directly to questions about the compatibility of this zoning designation, as proposed, with the City's waterfront vision and goals. Indeed, the Hudson Vision Plan is clear about waterfront goals:

"The waterfront is currently zoned for industrial use. . . . The current zoning is far too broad and does not recognize the value of the waterfront as a historical, cultural, commercial and recreational resource for the City. The zoning classification also does not encourage the highest and best use of the land and thus reduces potential tax revenues to the City.

"It is recommended a new 'Waterfront Zone' be created that addresses the goals of the Vision Plan and the specifics of the Master Plan. The zone should be created immediately. To minimize conflict existing property uses could be grand fathered, but if they change ownership, the new owners would be subject to the new provisions. Permitted uses should include: recreation/open space, parking, residential (second story and above), retail, galleries, studios, office, restaurants, museums, outdoor markets, outdoor performances, street vending, marine stores, marine fuel and boat storage. Conditional uses could include: electronic transmission towers, public utility uses, transportation centers, railroad, ferry terminals. Accessory Uses should include: signs, outdoor cafes. Prohibited Uses should include: manufacturing, assembling, storing and processing products or facilities, outdoor storage of lumber, construction and building materials, contractor's equipment, trucks, vans, buses, retail or wholesale of vehicles or boats. Building heights should be limited to 45 feet from ground elevation to ridge or parapet line." (Hudson Vision Plan, pp. 85-88)

The related schematic concept plan depicts a waterfront park, recreational boating facilities, and mixed-use redevelopment of upland parcels, including restaurants, galleries, retail shops, museums, offices and residential space.

The LWRP must identify and provide for the following information: What uses, activities and infrastructure are needed to foster this vision of the waterfront? What uses/activities preclude this vision from being realized? What zoning category(ies) at what location(s) is(are) required to foster the uses, activities and infrastructure that implement the vision? What zoning will hinder them? What are the benefits and drawbacks that are being balanced? If the benefits are sufficient, how will the drawbacks be managed/minimized?

A similar analysis must be made with regard to water uses/activities, which may include recreational kayaks, power boats, charter and party boat trips, ferries, barges, the Coast Guard, and other uses. There needs to be some analysis of which of these different water uses make sense, given the characteristics of the Hudson waterfront and the articulated community goals. Can they all be managed in a way that fosters these goals? If so, how? If not, what changes must be made to existing conditions, or to laws and regulations, or through other mechanisms, in order to prevent conflict?

Ch. 2 Pg 33, first full paragraph, last sentence
"St. Lawrence Cement has proposed a major upgrade of its docking facilities and a new conveyor as part of a proposed manufacturing facility in the Town of Greenport (see following Dock Area Plan)." The Dock Area Plan must be removed from the LWRP (see comment below "Ch. 2 page between pg 33 and pg 34 Overall Dock Area Plan") and this reference to it revised. Further, all references to the SLC proposal will require revision in light of recent decisions by the Common Council, Department of State, and SLC.

April 26, 2007

Forest City Ratner: It's a Disaster!

Ward Bakery update: Tonight groups of evacuated mums were out behind their strollers, which were draped in Red Cross blankets. A relief worker told me (around 6.30 pm) that shelter, clothing and food had been provided for them and everyone could now return home. Who'd have believed Ratner's plans would already be drawing upon disaster-relief resources? What else is in store?

In Ward Bakery incident, was a sidewalk shed required?

Norman Oder sheds some light on the missing sidewalk shed:

The sidewalk shed outside the Ward Bakery has been gone for weeks, though one existed for years. When local residents protesting Forest City Ratner's demolition plan walked on Pacific Street Monday, they passed right by the bakery, which lacked such a shed. Had today's incident--200 feet of the parapet wall falling, according to the Times--occurred three days earlier, those walking by could have been very unlucky. (Photo taken Monday by Jonathan Barkey)

When Forest City Ratner applied for a demolition permit in early March, it was approved on the basis that a sidewalk shed was required. The permit (below) also said that a shed had been erected.

That shed apparently was the one that had existed for years, and was apparently removed at some point after March 3. On March 21, the developer filed for a permit to build a new shed. Apparently a shed is not required while workers do pre-demolition work, such as asbestos removal. Among the lingering questions: did the asbestos removal at the building morph into more significant work that affected the building's structural integrity? If this could be blamed on weather and deterioration, should the developer have taken more precautions?

800 Pacific St. Pre-Demolition Report

According to this Pre-Demolition Report (click image to enlarge), a sidewalk shed was required. The report indicates that it was erected, though there was no shed at the site today when the cornice collapsed.

In addition, there is no indication of unsafe conditions at the property on this report.

More DEMO GRAPHICS Ratner-style

Photographers Adrian Kinloch ("") and Tracy Collins (aka "Threecee") were at the scene and posted photos to their sites.

"The building may have to be demolished quickly as it's now in dangerous state, which will help get Ratner's plan moving along."

"Sadly local residents in Dean Street had to be evacuated and spend the day next to some of Ratner's earlier work."

ESDC statement on Ward Bakery

Atlantic Yards Report has posted the Empire State Development Corporation's statement concerning the Ward Bakery collapse, along with an observation:

“When the Empire State Development Corporation learned about the incident, the agency sent representatives to the scene to assess the situation. Safety is our utmost concern and we’re very thankful no one was injured. Our team is conferring with the developer, the City, and various government agencies to find out exactly what happened and to help coordinate a thorough response. We’re also awaiting the outcome of an investigation by the city’s Department of Buildings so we can take any necessary action.”

Note that a "thorough response" does not, as of yet, go as far as the request by Council Member Letitia James that work on the site should be halted immediately.

NoLandGrab: Apparently the ESDC is still "listening" and "taking a hard look."

Jeffries calls for investigation James calls for stopping all work

The partial collapses of the Ward Bakery has led to evacuation of the neighboring homeless shelter and significant concern around the Pacific Street site. Investigations are ongoing, and elected officials are speaking up.

The lead is followed by NYC City Councilmember Letitia James's and NYS Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries' statements.

DDDB PRESS RELEASE: Ward Bakery Building Partially Collapses

While Ratner Contractors Work on Building

Department of Buildings and Empire State Development Corporation Should Halt All Demolition Activity on Atlantic Yards Site Until Full Investigation and Proper Monitoring Body is in Place

BROOKLYN, NY— Fortunately nobody was hurt today when the entire northern parapet of the Ward Bakery Building collapsed onto the street, sidewalk and parked cars below. Developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) is allegedly undertaking asbestos abatement on the building preliminary to a scheduled June demolition of the building for its “Atlantic Yards” project. The building would be demolished to create “interim surface parking” for an indefinite period of time. The 97-year old building was denied landmark status by the City Landmarks Commission but has stood stable over nearly one century. In fact, in March, the developer removed protective sidewalk sheds from the perimeter of the building where the collapse occurred.

The city’s Building Enforcement Safety Team, or BEST Squad, which inspects buildings prior to allowing demolition, found no unsafe issues or hazardous conditions in the Ward Bakery during their pre-demolition inspection.

“The Ward Bakery Building has stood solidly in our community for nearly one century without any problem. It certainly raises many questions that now that the developer has entered the building all of a sudden an entire parapet collapses. We are calling on the city’s Department of Buildings and the Bloomberg Administration to halt all of Forest City Ratner’s scheduled demolitions until the Ward Bakery collapse is fully investigated," said Develop Don’t Destroy spokesman Daniel Goldstein. "Also, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) — the public state corporation overseeing the Ratner project — must insist that Forest City Ratner stop all demolition on the project site until this collapse is fully investigated and the building stabilized, and until the public can be assured that there is a proper and responsive state-run site-monitoring body in place.”

Residents and community organizations around the project site have been calling for proper ESDC oversight of activity on the project site for many months, with no positive result from the state agency.

A long-term homeless shelter housing 94 families and 350 residents, adjacent to the Ward Bakery Building, was evacuated by the New York City Fire Department, and it is unclear when the residents will be allowed to return to the facility. The Red Cross was due out to the site to give assistance to the families waiting on Dean Street after they were evacuated.

“We simply don’t believe that the building was unstable, that is, until Ratner’s contractors went in in fact, Ratner apparently studied the structural integrity of its holdings in the footprint just a year ago, and concededly found no basis for concern with regard to the Ward Bakery. Had they thought the building was unstable, you have to believe that Ratner would have taken at least the precautionary measure of placing protective sidewalk sheds along the building in order to safeguard the community,” Goldstein said. “We are very fortunate nobody was hurt by the heavy falling debris that cascaded down five stories to the sidewalk and street below. There should be no ‘next time,’ and the ESDC has got to ensure that.”

At least fifteen demolitions are scheduled to take place between now and the end of June. Although approximately 50 buildings would need to be demolished to make way for construction of the project, currently many of those buildings are owned or occupied by private individuals or entities. Thirteen of those owners and regulated renters are currently in federal court alleging that the use of eminent domain for “Atlantic Yards” violates the United States Constitution. If they win their suit, they will retain the right to their properties and leases, their properties will not be demolished, and “Atlantic Yards" cannot be built.

Statement from City Councilmember Letitia James on Ward Bakery Collapse

Work in "Atlantic Yards" Site Should Be Halted Immediately

I am relieved no one was hurt in the partial "collapse" of part of the historic Ward's Bakery building this morning. I have been asking for an oversight structure of construction work at the site for sometime now. There is still no formal structure, other than the developer's own "Community Liaison Office," from which the public can get information.

It is tragic that 350 residents, consisting of 94 families, have been displaced because of this morning's occurrence.

I find it ironic that for 80 years Wards Bakery stood without incident and that this collapse would happen at this time. It is further ironic that some of these displaced have filed lawsuits affecting the approval of the Atlantic Yards Project. It is also important to note that this is one of several incidents that have occurred in the footprint of the project.

In light of what happened at 800 Pacific Street this morning, and other incidents, I have asked Empire State Development Corporation, who is acting as the lead agency in this project, to halt all work at the "Atlantic Yards" site until this morning's occurrence can be fully investigated, and until there is a monitoring body to oversee all proposed demolition and construction at the site.

This is still a neighborhood filled with residents and businesses. The current situation is hazardous to the health and safety of my constituents, and these demolitions, accidental and intentional, are entirely premature in the process.

Statement from Assemblyman Jeffries on Collapse of Ward Bakery

Complete Investigation Demanded

“The partial collapse of the Ward Bakery has caused great concern in the community. I am thankful that no one was injured, as this accident could have had tragic consequences. The Fire Department must conduct a thorough investigation of the cause of this collapse and I expect the developer to fully participate. This incident further highlights the need to proceed with extreme caution as the developer moves forward the Atlantic Yards project.”

Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries
Thursday, April 26, 2007

Assemblyman Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) represents Prospect Heights (the area where the incident occurred), Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, parts of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant

NoLandGrab: What are the chances that Jeffries is going to be called into the Atlantic Yards Community Liaison Office to get chewed out by the Community Benefits Agreement Executive Committee for not going to them first before issuing a statement?

Ward's Bakery Parapet Collapses As Demo Starts

Overheard in Brownstoner, Eyewitness Commentary from "NeoGrec":

I witnessed the aftermath -- thank goodness no one was walking past the building when this happened. They would surely be a goner. The chunks of masonry were huge. All the residents of the adjacent homeless shelter were evacuated. Women with babies in arms and many young children could be seen standing around on Dean St. I hope the city will find somewhere for those families to go. Especially since there have already been complaints by residents of Dean St that the asbetos abatement going on at the Ward Bakery is being done in a very sloppy way. Not a great enviroment for young kids. Meanwhile, Forest City Ratner will no doubt get over their embarrassment pretty quickly. This could help them in the eminent domain lawsuit since their defense is based on proving that the buildings are "blighted". Yeh, looks they did a great job of blighting this one! Also overheard someone say it was very unusual for such a long stretch of cornice to collapse like that. "Usually they fall off in smaller chunks" was his comment. Hmmm.

Daily Collapse

"Roadway Collapse" yesterday, "Building Collapse" today.

. shame on you Bruce Ratner.

Also, we'd like to send shout outs to Atlantic Yards Development Group President James P. Stuckey, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Governor Eliot Spitzer, the entire cast of "The Atlantic Yards Community Liaison Office" (currently running on 6th Ave), Community Benefits Agreement Environmental Compliance Czar Delia Hunley-Adossa, and "Joey From Cobble Hill" DePlasco, whom we expect to hear from shortly.

BREAKING CurbedWire: Atlantic Yards Building Partial Collapse

PROSPECT HEIGHTS--Just into our inbox a photo of some significant loss of parts of Ward's Bakery at 800 Pacific Street in the Atlantic Yards footprint. The tipster who sent the image writes about:

A partial collapse not 20 minutes ago. Seems the parapet which was at the top of the building (duh) fell off following the start of demolition work on the building and heavy rains. No less than 11 firetrucks, 50 firemen, 3 FDNY emergency response vehicles and they just set up a cute little whiteboard to figure out their plan of cleanup. Nobody was walking underneath and as the building is slated for demolition it was empty so no injuries. Several cars were damaged.

Breaking News from WABC Eyewitness News

From Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (

We ask: Where is the government oversight, ESDC?
Can the neighborhood look forward to this quality of work from Forest City Ratner for the next 20 - 40 years? Can the neighborhood survive this quality of work by Ratner and his contractors, and this complete lack of governement oversight? The community has been asking the ESDC for months for serious monitoring of Ratner actions/demolitions on the Atlantic Yards project site. The main response has been foot-dragging and future promises. Well the future is here.

Section of building under demolition crashes onto street

The parapet of a vacant building under demolition as part of the Atlantic Yards project collapsed onto the street in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn Thursday morning.

Officials say the parapet on the former Ward Bread Bakery Complex came crashing onto the sidewalk and Pacific Street just after 9:45 a.m.

The parapet is the barrier at the edge of a structure employed to prevent persons or vehicles from falling over the edge.

No workers were reported injured, and there were no pedestrians struck, officials said.

Emergency services personnel are now in the process of evacuating nearly 100 apartments after a parapet fell.

Officials are worried about the stability of the building and the possibility of additional collapse, so they are evacuating the building next door at 800 Pacific Street. There are unconfirmed reports that perhaps 350 people could be displaced.

Pieces of the parapet littered the sidewalk and crashed onto some cars.


NY Post, Op-Ed
By Craig Charney

DEMOLITION began this week to clear ground for New York's biggest urban redevelopment project in decades, Atlantic Yards. That marked not just a crucial defeat for New York's militant anti-developers - the dreaded "NIMBY" (not in my backyard) lobby - but also the emergence of a possible blueprint for future victories.

The project will transform 22 Brooklyn acres that now hold only rail yards, low-rise apartments, condos, empty lots and abandoned buildings into the home of a professional sports arena (and the Nets), as well as high-rise residential housing and offices - 17 buildings in all, with 8.7 million square feet of space and a $4.2 billion price tag.

Charney mentions the "modest" scaledown of the project, but neglects to mention that Atlantic Yards would still be the densest residential community in the nation, by a long shot, or that it is the largest single-source private project in the nation.

NoLandGrab: Name calling and omissions of simple truths are generally what happens when smart people with big opinions fear facts.

Speaking of which, here's Richard Lipsky's take:

As [Charney] goes on to point out, the FCRC was "willing to listen and make concessions-to a variety of interests that developers often ignore or outright oppose." And in addition, the developer brought in "some of New York's top political and marketing pros." The fact that FCRC brought us into this struggle, indicates the perceptiveness of people like Bruce Bender and Scott Cantone who understood that to develop grass roots support you need to have folks who understand the organizing that needs to be done at that level.

NoLandGrab: Lipsky is still kissing Bender's butt (more here, here, here, here) — maybe he's bucking for another big payday.

You didn't think that Atlantic Yards Report would let these guys have all the fun?

Charney's misleading analysis starts in the very first paragraph. First, demolition actually began in February Charney's referring to demolitions challenged in court and last week permitted to proceed.

Second, the opponents are not NIMBYs--why would they be organizing the UNITY 2007 charette this weekend?--but critics of this specific plan, which would be more dense than the nation's densest census tract and is so radioactive that the city won't cite it as a blueprint in the just-released PlaNYC 2030 document.

Charney, in the second paragraph, makes another error, saying Atlantic Yards would have 8.7 million square feet of space (actually 8 million) and cost $4.2 billion (actually $4 billion.) He says that developer Forest City Ratner "did have to scale the project down modestly to get the go-ahead," but that, of course, is untrue: the size of the project, in square footage, would be just about the same as announced.

The Atlantic Yards - Part Two

Nathan Kensinger posted more amazing photos from his below-ground tour of the footprint of the Atlantic Yards.

Click here for Part I, where Kensinger defends his use of the term "The Atlantic Yards."

As for the text, I think it is appropriate to continue using the name "Atlantic Yards" here, if only to help clarify that these photographs are from a potential construction site and not just a rail yard.

NoLandGrab: The only problem with the looser lexicon is that most New Yorkers don't know the difference, and the Ratner brand name, "The Atlantic Yards," takes on a life of its own as in yesterday's Gothamist post referencing Kensinger's latest crop of photos:

Nathan Kensinger found his way into the tunnels underneath Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards.

Blight Me: Is "Developer Blight" a New Brooklyn Tactic?

The other day, protesters were out on Flatbush Avenue to speak out against the "premature demolition" of buildings in the Atlantic Yards footprint by Forest City Ratner. On Sunday, we gazed at the big lot at Bedford Avenue and N. 3rd Street in Williamsburg that is half empty and has had a half-demolished building for almost a year. On Saturday, we were wandering around Coney Island, shooting photos of a huge fence erected by Thor Equities.
It's not hard to imagine that one of these orgies of premature demolition won't leave beind a wasteland.

GL mentions Edgemere as a point of reference.

Judge Won't Stop Demolitions Before Hearing Protest Argues Action Remains Premature

Norman Oder recaps the week's events: denial of a "temporary restraining order," the Demolition Demonstration, the construction schedule and deadlines and why neighbors are fighting against demolition of Ratner-owned properties.

DEMO GRAPHICS: Pacific, Flatbush and Fifth Ave. "Road Collapse"

Sidewalk sheds on Flatbush Avenue were installed on Tuesday.

A sidewalk shed was being erected yesterday on Pacific Street.

This is being billed as a "road collapse" by the on-site workers. Who collapsed what and why?

It came from the "Bloggiest Community in the Nation"

Ironically, we wouldn't be the nation's "bloggiest community" if the mainstream media (MSM) actually covered the Atlantic Yards project the way it should.

Meanwhile, the MSM is wringing their hands over how to compete with the blogosphere. Go figure.

It seems the proposed $4 billion Atlantic Yards project has bloggers all in a tizzy, according to's chief product officer, John Geraci.

Brownstoner Forum, How close is too close to AY?
Yesterday, a prospective buyer was asking about Third Ave. and Atlantic Yards. Today, it's North Slope.

Dope on the Slope, Bloggie Went A-Postin'
Brooklyn's own Hillbilly-in-Residence has new lyrics for the American classic:

Bloggie went a-postin’, and he did write, Uh-huh,
Bloggie went a-postin’, and he did write, Uh-huh,
Bloggie went a-postin’, and he did write.
With a mouse and a keyboard by his side, Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Well he wrote about the wrecking ball, Uh-huh,
Well he wrote about the wrecking ball, Uh-huh,
Well he wrote about the wrecking ball,
Eminent domain and suburban sprawl Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

So, photographer and photoblogger Nate Kensinger (AKA Gowanus), who has previously shown the inside of a number of Brooklyn industrial landmarks and projects, is posting pics from what might literally be called the underbelly of Atlantic Yards, the tunnels above which the megadevelopment may rise.

Sports and Games from Ambler, LOOK WHO'S BRANCHING OUT

I usually pull for the Nets too, and I'll continue to do so, as long as Bruce Ratner stays the fuck out of my hood.

Breaking ground at Atlantic Yards?

Yes, someone "broke the ground" on Fifth Avenue, only they're keeping mum on who or what did it.

The story that workers are stuck with is that the hole was caused by a "roadway collapse."

The question is, did Ratner workers collapse the roadway, or is that just an excuse to get premature work done in advance of the official roadway closing and demapping, scheduled for May 27?

A source says that the DOT is fingering DEP subcontractors for "underming the street."


This week's NY Press sports talk column by C.J. Sullivan and Dave Hollander has this lament about NY basketball:

HOLLANDER: And now he should be booted out. Too late. [NY Knick's owner] James M. Dolan’s absurdly premature awarding [Head Coach] Isiah [Thomas] a four-year contract extension guarantees that Madison Square Garden will remain a pro basketball wasteland for an entire generation. The only person happier than Isiah about Isiah staying in New York is Bruce Ratner. The Brooklyn Nets will soon be the only NBA team of consequence in our city. Too bad so many in Brooklyn don’t want them there. The whole thing makes me ill.

NoLandGrab: Hope Hollander doesn't mind the trip to Jersey while the Nets stay put for as long as it takes.

Scamming redevelopment

With little oversight, local redevelopment agencies seize private property and spend tax dollars to subsidize developers.

LA Times, Op-Ed
By Doug Kaplan

IN CALIFORNIA last year, redevelopment agencies spent more than $5 billion. They consumed almost $3 billion in property taxes. They forced people from their homes and businesses. And what vital service did they provide? They built shopping centers.

And here's the developers' dirty little secret:

Developers don't demand subsidies because they need them they demand subsidies because they are there for the taking.

What if I'm wrong? Then redevelopment officials should still ask themselves — or better yet, they should ask the voters — how the public expects its tax dollars to be spent. Does it want more fabulous shopping centers and ever grander avenues? Or, for example, would it prefer better neighborhood schools?

Redevelopment is unwise, unjust and unnecessary and should be repealed before billions more dollars are wasted on public subsidies for private developers who — trust me — don't need the money.

DOUG KAPLAN is a Northern California developer and former school board trustee. He lives in Aptos.

Brooklyn Chefs Deliver ‘Michelin Star Quality’ By Bike

It’s a quiet Monday morning at the Greenmarket at Union Square, and chefs Diana Freedman and Annabel Sharahy scour the stalls for maitake mushrooms that they’ll use in a new recipe. The pair were preparing for a Rosh Hashanah-themed meal featuring brisket, root vegetable fritters and honey cake.

Freedman and Sharahy are farmer’s market veterans. Both sourced ingredients here while working at fine dining restaurants like Gunter Seeger and Gramercy Tavern over the past several years. This time, they’re gathering produce for Brown Butter Supper Club, a startup that makes and delivers what they call “Michelin Star-quality food” across Brooklyn that will cost you about $35 for an entrée with accoutrements. Their sandwich menu currently starts at $12.

The pair are among thousands of hospitality workers in Brooklyn who have been forced to stake it out on their own amid coronavirus closures. Although the pressure to make a living has led to ingenuity in Brooklyn’s culinary world, it’s unclear whether the revenue from start-ups like Brown Butter Supper Club will garner the same demand in-person restaurants once did.

When the pandemic struck the food industry in March, Freedman and Sharahy found themselves out of a job, without much notice. The restaurant where they worked — Freedman as a line cook and Sharahy as a sous chef — had no choice but to cut their hours.

“We still had our tools in the restaurant, our shoes — everything we would need to work,” Freedman said. “Nobody knew what was happening.”

The pair was also dissatisfied with the way the hospitality industry reacted to the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. They observed some restaurants promoting seasonal cocktails instead of coming up with plans to address racism in the workplace or donating leftover ingredients to protesters.

That’s when Sharahy and Freedman devised a project of their own. Working from a rented-out kitchen in Brooklyn, they began cooking meals for local customers each week, with Freedman personally delivering each order on her bike. As the business expanded, the pair moved to the kitchen inside a luxury hotel in Bed-Stuy called The Brooklyn. The startup partnered with local delivery services Plucker and Dinner Table and the business evolved to include cooking classes, private dinners and pop-up meals.

The duo has focused on reinterpreting cuisine from their childhoods. For Sharahy, whose family is Syrian and Chechen, that means an emphasis on pickling, fermentation and Arabic spices. Freedman, meanwhile, takes inspiration from her Russian and Romanian family’s roasting and braising techniques.

The chefs previously premiered an all-vegan dinner, which included locally sourced polenta cakes, marinated eggplants, shaved radish salad and crispy enoki mushrooms. The menu is ever-changing and currently includes starters like crispy, Brazilian barbecue-flavored fries and hearty main dishes like roasted pork cold noodles and succulent chicken sandwiches.

Nearly two-thirds of restaurants in New York State are either likely or somewhat likely to close by the end of the year in the absence of government assistance, according to a recent New York Restaurant Association survey. The New York City Hospitality Alliance has reported that nearly 90% of respondents were unable to fully pay their rent in October.

Several high-profile New York restaurant owners have, in the absence of sufficient government subsidies, taken to sites like GoFundMe to raise funds that go directly to their employees. Greg Baxtrom’s Prospect Heights eatery Olmsted and its sister restaurant Maison Yaki raised over $90,000 for their employees. Meanwhile, Brooklyn Mediterranean staple Hart’s pivoted to selling prepared ingredients and meals like vegetable soup, homemade breadcrumbs and braised mushrooms to neighborhood residents.

Unlike bars and restaurants whose revenue relies on in-person service, some delivery services like Long Island City-based Ipsa Provisions found that they were better-equipped to endure the pandemic. Ipsa, which launched in February, delivers upscale frozen meals that customers can easily heat on a stovetop. Featuring international fare, the service’s staples include a steamy, lemongrass-infused coconut curry, Morrocan braised chicken and spicy chicken tortilla soup — the meals all serve two to three people and go for a little north of $20 each. Ipsa’s co-founder, Joshua Brau, says the decision to remain open wasn’t easy.

“But what kept us going was conversations with our friends in the healthcare and public health community who said, ‘As small as your business is, you are providing a really essential service,” Brau said.

Back at the farmer’s market, vendors are hauling in vegetables like flying saucer squash, dragon tongue beans and radishes. As Freedman and Sharahy take one last look for potential ingredients, they spot a stall offering bundles of plump concord grapes.

They each sample one and wince, pushing the leftover seeds around in their mouths. The grapes aren’t quite ripe enough. They purchase a bundle anyway to incorporate into a yet-unknown recipe and Freedman readies her bike for the ride home.

Customers can order straight from the menu at Brown Butter Supper Club’s website.

Watch the video: 4k Manhattan WalkUnion Square, Greenmarket in NYC (January 2022).