During the early years of the Koch administration, when a near-bankrupt New York City was subject to state-imposed financial controls similar to those forced on Detroit earlier this year, many city officials read Robert Caro's book "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York" as if it were the Bible. They wanted to know how he did it. How did he actually build something? They were trying to govern a ramshackle city that had once created Central Park, developed the magnificent water-delivery system from upstate and enabled private companies to construct what became the world's most extensive subway network. By the late 1970s, city officials could barely maintain these gifts from the past, much less build anything new.
Food is to cities what tech was in the 90s: a large, disparate, confusing universe of entrepreneurs and creative types ranging from the tiny DIY young manufacturers at Brooklyn's Smorgasburg to Manhattan's renowned high-end restaurants. And just as Apple was often viewed in the early 90s as quirky and precious, so are many food innovators today.
But like the tech sector, restaurants, markets and food products have often ended up defining neighborhoods and sustaining them. The Smith Street restaurants alerted New Yorkers of a resurgence in Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens long before the rest of the world had heard of Brooklandia. Harlem's restaurants, like Amy Ruth's, helped bolster the neighborhood through the very bad days of the 70s and 80s. The High Line's wild success both built on and now supports the excellent restaurants nearby.
I'm suggesting that NYCHA look at each of these projects and think about whether the project should be one that receives substantial capital investment to give it another 50 years life or whether this is a project that should be put in the category of, say, Prospect Plaza in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, in which NYCHA decided that renovating the project at a cost of $500,000 a unit was out of the question. And, therefore, they concluded they should redevelop the immense project in an entirely different format from traditional public housing.
Is Brownsville Brooklyn--long regarded as one of New York's most troubled neighborhoods--ready for its comeback? There are some hopeful signs. The once-gorgeous Loew's Pitkin Theatre, which debuted in 1929 and closed in the late 1960s, has undergone a $43 million renovation by Poko Partners, reopening with an Ascend charter school on the top floors and retail on the ground floor. Pitkin Avenue itself, Brownsville's crucial commercial corridor, has a revitalized Business Improvement District, headed by lifetime Brooklynite Daniel Murphy. A handsome 12-unit condo building developed by Habitat for Humanity welcomed its new owners in April. The percentage of students performing at grade level in reading and math is increasing, allowing StreetEasy's ads for modest houses to confidently stress the "transformed public school system."
Many urban neighborhoods have tried to use culture as a transformative economic development tool. But few have succeeded as sensationally as Manhattan's Upper West Side and its beloved performing arts center, Symphony Space--dubbed by the New York Times that "Upper West Side bastion of unconventional programming." To understand the achievement we need to return to the dark, dismal days of the Symph's founding--the late 1970s.
How fabulous was Cincinnati in the old days? Winston Churchill, for one, thought it was sensational, and called it "the most beautiful of the inland cities of the union." He singled out the "unsurpassed" Netherland Plaza Hotel from whose tower "the city spreads far and wide, its pageant of crimson, purple and gold laced by silver streams that are great rivers." Over the top, of course, but so is downtown Cincinnati, mesmerizing in all its architectural splendor.
Yet Cincinnati is generally not on anyone's list of the most-dazzling cities, partly because deindustrialization hit it so hard after World War II-and partly because it responded to its declining fortunes by implementing every known bad planning idea of the 20th century. Today Cincinnati is undergoing a renaissance that combines aggressive historic preservation with an economic development strategy based on sports, culture, and food-all three deeply embedded in Cincy's view of itself. "Come for Bengals, Stay for Hofbrauhaus," suggested a recent Cincinnati USA promo.
Q. The recent devastation wrought on the Rockaway Beach peninsula in Queens by Hurricane Sandy made me wonder: Why is there such a huge concentration of nursing homes in the Rockaways?
A. The urban renewal programs of the 1950s and 1960s are a big part of the story.
"Blessed with the Atlantic Ocean to the south and Jamaica Bay to the north, the Rockaways became a popular resort area of elegant hotels and fine houses in the 1830s," Julia Vitullo-Martin, then a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote in 2008. "The coming of the railroad in the 1880s encouraged more intensive development, including playlands, amusement parks and a few apartment buildings. Attractive beachfront communities were developed, such as Belle Harbor, Neponsit and Arverne. The opening of the Cross Bay Bridge in 1925 and the Marine Parkway Bridge in 1937 made the Rockaways convenient for middle- and working-class households, who bought the bungalows."
After World War II, more highways and air travel changed vacation habits, and property values declined. The urban renewal program of slum clearance, a federal program begun in 1949 and locally controlled by Robert Moses, used eminent domain to acquire and destroy thousands of the remaining bungalows. "Many had already been converted into substandard welfare housing," Jack Eichenbaum, the Queens borough historian, said. In their place went swaths of public housing projects.
Ms. Vitullo-Martin wrote, "The city also used federal and state financing to support the development of dozens of nursing homes."
One reason for building housing projects in the Rockaways was that their residents were thought not to need easy access to the city's job centers. The same reasoning made the peninsula a logical choice for nursing homes. As with much of urban renewal, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
For decades, the housing stock in much of the Rockaways has been chaotic, with small and tall jumbled together. In 2008, the city adopted a major rezoning plan for the Rockaways intended to rationalize development, preserve the surviving bungalows and encourage more retail commerce.
Lagos, Nigeria, has a Bus Rapid Transit system, is constructing improved rail, beautifying its highways, rebuilding the port, developing the waterfront. Yet is has a reputation for crime and mayhem which seems hard to shake. Just how menacing is it?
Uniformed policemen tried to carjack us in a crowded market in broad daylight. Our driver careened through the winding streets to escape, with the help of the crowd and the traffic around us. Here is our escapade in Africa's fastest-growing city.
While public housing agencies in other large cities were going through the throes of federally mandated reform in the 1990s, NYCHA stood aloof. Seemingly secure in its New York Times-conferred title of best-managed public housing system in the country, NYCHA basically defied HUD as the feds tried to cajole--and, failing that, force--the agency to demolish some distressed towers and replace them with lower-density, mixed-income housing. Because many New Yorkers and elected officials believed NYCHA was indeed well managed, this stance succeeded locally, and received very little harsh criticism. New Yorkers were proud that their city alone seemed to have made public housing work.
Homelessness may be the most intransigent social problem today facing the otherwise successful city of New York. And it's not because city government hasn't tried. Calling street homelessness "intolerable" in 2006, Mayor Bloomberg vowed to end it, dramatically reorganizing homeless services, introducing innovative approaches, and cleaning up the worst shelters.
Instead, homelessness has been surging upward. In April of this year, the annual survey of street homelessness found a 23% increase--an estimated 3,262 living on the street on January 30, versus 2,648 in 2011. This is far lower than the 4,395 people found in 2005, but the recent jump is troubling.