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By Alec Pruchnicki

The preservation of the Elizabeth Street Garden appears to be a victory for open space and quality of life. On closer inspection, I believe it is an example of selfishness.

THE GARDEN:

The garden is a pretty, well-manicured quiet open space. While researching this article, I’ve been there four times; twice it was closed (weekday around 5 PM), and twice it was open (weekend around 4 PM). On these few visits: there were virtually no African Americans, nobody who looked Hispanic, no children, no teenagers, no old people.

However, within a five-block radius there are six other parks. Along Houston Street there is a community garden; a block past that, another community garden adjacent to a playground; and a block past that, a thin strip of benches and trees. Sara Roosevelt Park, DeSalvio playground, and Petrosino Square are also all nearby.

On my few visits to these parks, all within walking distance, there were plenty of people of all races and ages.

Everything else being equal, there is nothing wrong with having a seventh park in addition to these six. But everything else every landlord in the city to find some ex is not equal. There is a housing crisis in New York City.

HOUSING:

Understandably, community residents are worried about gentrification. We can change building zoning and funding, but we can’t change the law of supply and demand. Since 2000, the population of New York City has increased to a record 8.5 million; in spite of a massive terrorist attack, a devastating hurricane, a stock market collapse, and relentlessly increasing housing costs. There is no reason to think that the projections for another half-million population increase by 2030, won’t happen.

As reported in the Times on March 1: People will share apartments, college grads will move back with parents, and there will be an increase in homelessness—possibly all of these. Or, we can build more housing and lots of it. Although gentrification changes the personality of our city, neighborhoods, and even individual blocks, the worst problem is that it displaces people who already live here. As rents and prices increase, there is an increasing incentive for cause to kick out rent stabilized/controlled tenants to make way for the higher income newcomers. Restricting new housing accelerates this effect—it doesn’t eliminate it.

But, if enough housing is built, and there is a push to make sure that at least some of it is for low and moderate income households, expanding housing stock can accommodate both newcomers and natives. Recent reporting on April 17 in the Times mentions another possible benefit— housing costs might actually start to come down if landlords face empty apartments and can’t afford to warehouse them.

Building new housing requires change, and sometimes sacrifice. Building on Elizabeth Street will sacrifice a pleasant garden. Building on the alternative, Hudson Street site will require years of time—assuming funding can be found. Building on Howard Street will require fighting the Federal government for the space. Building on the semi-abandoned and virtually useless stretch of Gansevoort Street, will require some compromise on preservation principles. The proposed massive St. John’s Center buildings will require an increase in local density. And, Mayor DeBlasio’s zoning changes will require more density throughout the city.

But, if we can’t make at least some of these sacrifices for our friends, neighbors, family members, and New Yorkers less fortunate than ourselves; then we truly are being selfish. Amenities, even very nice ones, shouldn’t take precedence over a necessity like housing.

THE FUTURE:

We aren’t alone in this situation. The Times notes that San Francisco is facing the same problem. Although strong preservation policies have limited new building, people still want to move there, many of these newcomers are tech industry workers with higher incomes, and they are pushing out low-income households. Restricting new housing has made gentrification’s effects worse, not better.

We can continue in denial, restrict housing, and somehow think that the gentrifiers will give up. Or, we can build a lot of housing, as much of it low income or affordable as possible, provide housing for our long time and new residents, and maybe even lower some rental prices. The nine million New Yorkers who will be here by 2030 will have to live somewhere.

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