Cramming for New York

Kenneth T. Jackson, a professor of history at Columbia, editor in chief of The Encyclopedia of New York City, and a past president of the Society of American Historians, to which I belong, is in favor of the East Midtown development plan that would build new and taller skyscrapers around around Grand Central Station. In a N.Y. Times op-ed, Prof. Jackson, whom I  respect, says that those who oppose the idea of building big and bold would compromise the city’s future as “the world’s greatest city.” He says high density is good where there is strong public transit and that those who balked at development would have prevented the building of the Empire State Building.

Having just fought my way through pedestrian traffic on Fifth Avenue on a Labor Day Saturday, when many residents are out of town, I have one word for him: Sidewalks! Midtown Manhattan sidewalks are so clotted with people — especially around Grand Central but including the pedestrian malls that the Bloomberg Administration has fostered at Times Square and the Macy’s area, that the idea of quadrupling the foot traffic in dense Midtown is a horrible idea — even if vehicles were banned from 42nd Street. There are plenty of other spots for over-building — how about the West Side Yards? Or how about grand schemes that would bring jobs and density to the Bronx, which is well-served by Metro North?

If you build it, they might not come. As Yogi Berra once said about a restaurant, “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Why Things Have Gotten Quiet In NYC

Wealthy New Yorkers have managed to shut down debate about what is good for New York City, including the vanishing middle class and those who believe in zoning laws. A N.Y. Times story today about opposition to Mayor Bloomberg’s outsize development plan for area around Grand Central Station points out that disgust with the plan for midtown east has helped to revive the formerly moribund City Club of New York. It reports that club secretary Stuart Pertz, an architect who was on the City Planning Commission in the 1980s, says that organizations are stymied by their need for donations and they fear offending executives, or working against their interests, when they need them to provide funding.

The Bloomberg Administration is finally drawing to a close, four years later than we expected it to by law, but puppeteer Bloomberg will still have his billions, so look for this situation to continue. The Koch Brothers and those hedge fund managers who do not receive crippling fines from the government, all hold sway on important boards. At this point non-profits that are afraid to pursue their missions, or decided to pursue agendas at half-throttle as many do, should disband for all our sakes, or, as in the case of the once influential City Club of New York, get loud.