Deny the dystopia Big Real Estate wants for us

Outside a Lower East Side town hall in June 2017 led by Mayor de Blasio and Councilmember Margaret Chin, a protester slammed the mayor for his close ties with developers and real estate. Her sign shows a photo of de Blasio posing with Steve Spinola, the former president of the Real Estate Board of New York a.k.a. REBNY. Villager file photo

BY LYNN ELLSWORTH | It is hard not to grieve the physical blows our city has sustained over the years. The first big losses began with the upheavals of urban renewal that demolished vast working-class neighborhoods, all packed to the gills with small businesses: the Seaport, the Lower West Side, San Juan Hill, the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side and East and Central Harlem. Urban renewal displaced thousands and destroyed more affordable housing than it created.

After that, exploitative zoning destroyed more neighborhoods: the Theater District, Yorkville and Times Square are just three examples.

Then, Bloomberg’s luxury-city model handed us the corporatized wastelands of Hudson Yards, Greenpoint, Atlantic Yards, Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Long Island City. And the team of de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Glen? Their affordable housing scheme is but a Trojan horse for the same old luxury plan. So we are losing even more. Witness: Inwood, East Harlem, “Hudson Square,” the “Tech Hub” and Jerome Ave. to name a few.

And more bad plans are coming. Developers want the Garment District and what’s left of the Seaport. It’s all icing on the cake of their existing plan to demolish and rebuild East Midtown even taller.

Immense megatowers, many still on the drawing board, are also inching their way through the Upper West Side as close to Central Park as they can get. Developers have even dared to take parks, libraries and public-private plazas. And did I mention the supertalls? Unbelievably, developers are now licking their chops over Governors and Rikers islands.

Offering up so much of our city to an unregulated real estate industry is criminal. The cost is shockingly high. We lose small businesses and the vibrant street life they create. We lose our history. We lose beauty. We lose sunlight and air. And as bit by bit of it is sold off to oligarchs, we lose the sky itself.

Above all, we lose people — those displaced in the first frenzy of demolitions, and then those who can’t afford the luxury units that arise in their place. We end up as serfs to the lords of real estate. And we end up having to live in a homogenized, globalized, corporate nowhere of a city.

But that is exactly what Big Real Estate wants: to rebuild New York City in the model of Dubai or Shanghai. And no neighborhood is safe, even historic districts. The industry’s favorite economist, Edward Glaeser, stated in a published interview that all 10-story buildings in New York City should be torn down and rebuilt as 40-story buildings.

We “regular” citizens have to realize that we face a common enemy and a common fight against the dystopia planned for us by the Real Estate Board of New York. Alas, the current crop of politicians will not help us. They might murmur words of sympathy, but they won’t lead, legislate, appoint or vote against REBNY’s power. There are no heroes among our politicians. We will have to save the city ourselves. How to do that is a big question. Start by coming to our rally.

Join Human-scale NYC and more than 50 organizations in a Rally for Our Neighborhoods on Sat., Oct. 13, from noon to 1 p.m., on the steps of City Hall. For more information, visit www.humanscale.nyc .

Ellsworth is co-founder, Human-scale NYC, and chairperson, Tribeca Trust

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