Due to the intense development pressure many New York neighborhoods are facing, residents are beginning to understand the importance of working together across neighborhood lines.
At a recent City Council hearing on proposed plans for the development of East Harlem, residents made many eloquent comments, including the formidable Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President and longtime veteran of these struggles. She read a long and eloquent statement in defense of local efforts to combat the gentrification of these neighborhoods, although she made it clear that she is not opposed to development efforts in all cases.
One lesson emerged from these hearings: City agencies, such as the Zoning Board of Adjustment (a.k.a. Zoning Board of Appeals), the Economic Development Corporation, and others are not directly accountable to neighborhood residents in submitting their proposed plans for development. They, as appointed officials, are beholden to the wishes of those above them—the Mayor, his developer friends, and the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). As always in a City of our size, powerful interests have come to assume that it’s “their way or the highway,” local concerns be damned.
But it is just such an attitude that makes local neighborhood resistance so important: Without such a strong Fourth estate, New York is inevitably doomed to continue down the path of headlong and heedless development, where the real (and only) beneficiaries in these gigantic land grabs are the local politicians and their rich friends.
We have seen this in the Hudson Yards project, where an inhuman wall of glass and steel, resembling something out of Blade Runner, virtually cuts off all of Midtown West from access to the river. Such plans clearly cry out for an organized, grassroots, informed, loud, local movement of resistance before these precious neighborhoods are lost forever. (One of the speakers at the City Council meeting used the word ‘colonialization’ to describe this gradual erosion of neighborhood culture. Reference was also made to Stonewall Jackson and his program of “pacification” of the American Indians.)
As we used to say in the 1960s: “La unión hace la fuerza.”