Monday, May 5, 2008

Saving 9th Avenue

On Saturday, an angry but subdued crowd gathered on 9th Ave between 17th and 18th to protest landlord Morris Moinian's plan to push out the small businesses and rent-regulated tenants of his newly acquired building. I broke this news not long ago and it was exciting to see how quickly information can spread and turn into action.

Andrew Berman, Miguel Acevedo, and Gloria Sukenik organized the demonstration which included, by my estimation, 200 people.

The politicians showed up. Senator Tom Duane spoke about the need for small businesses in a place where "not everybody is rich." Assembly member Dick Gottfried made a plea to bring back commercial rent control, saying, "A neighborhood is not a neighborhood if it's overrun by high-end boutiques, banks, and chain stores." And Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer addressed the city-wide problem, saying, "This isn't about a single store, but an entire neighborhood and the city as a whole."

Berman, Sukenik, Duane, Acevedo

Scott Stringer

One of the most powerful speakers was Phyllis Gonzalez, president of the Elliott-Chelsea Tenants Association, who spoke from her wheelchair about her personal relationship with the shops on the block. "I can be outside any of these stores and in minutes someone comes out and says, 'What can I get for you Ms. Gonzalez?'" This won't happen, she predicted, if she rolls up to the new high-end businesses that are planned. To those people, she's just an undesirable outsider.

Phyllis Gonzalez

She recalled that her children could run for safety into these same stores and their keepers would shelter them, saying, "Stay in here and let me call your mother." Is that going to happen when Equinox moves in? Or the wine bar that's already under construction? I doubt it.

Yes, these businesses are shabby-looking, but they provide an invaluable community for many. They are in integral part of a vulnerable social network--at times, a safety net--that keeps people connected to each other in an increasingly isolating city. When these businesses are gone, the people they serve will fade away. And isn't that the master plan?

More than one speaker noted that the wealthy new New Yorkers will soon grow tired of looking at the housing projects from their floor-to-ceiling windows, their sidewalk cafe tables, and their potted-plant promenades. Then they'll petition the city, with all their deep-pocket power, and the projects will become luxury housing and hotels, the "undesirables" washed away.

Upon the shoulders of these little shops rests a world. Their demise will have a ripple effect on the entire city. And this is how the world ends--not with a bang, but with the whimpers of one man, one woman at a time.


Anonymous said...

Ms. Gonzalez just explained the heart of it all with simple clarity - what no commercial expert, politician, landlord, and reporter could do. Thanks for the article.

Anonymous said...

There isn't a neighborhood in the city that isn't grieving over the loss of our beloved city where not only races and religions mixed, but so did the rich and the poor and everyone in between.

I love that New York and watching its demise is painful.

Anonymous said...

What has happen to the times when people worked hard so they could move out of the projects? These residents have no drive to better themselves as eveything is handed to them, from low-cost housing to food stamps to free medical care. Stop buying booze at that liquor store and open a free checking account instead of cashing your welfare check at the cash-check store and then maybe we can talk.

Anonymous said...

I'm not happy with changing the rules of the game. What ever happened to private property rights? Is this landlord breaking a law or just opting to take advantage of the current climate?

Anonymous said...

screw them... I love walking to my house that I busted my ass to earn and live in while I watch them move their cars as the street sweeper comes by... if you cant afford Disney Land then stay out of the park...and pick up your filthy dog shit.

Anonymous said...

boo hoo
cry me a river

the day the projects are torn down willbe a GREAT day in nyc

goddam entitlement attitudes

Anonymous said...

i studied hard, landed a good job, work my ass off and cant afford the luxe condos nor do i qualify for any tax dollars allow them to live in chelsea while i commute an hour each way every sympathy here

Anonymous said...

I studied hard, worked hard, paid my dues and now I have some money. I have lived in nice doormen buildings since 1993 and will continue to do so.
I find these small businesses fine, but I have no problem with larger shops either. It is called progress.
Landlords should be able to rent to whom they want, and when a new high rise comes in people should remember that many units are provided to low income families too. These people live in buildings they could never otherwise afford.
I'm so sick of these poor people complaining because there is a world they can't afford. I don't have a private jet but I don't complain that such things exist!

Anonymous said...

"i studied hard, landed a good job, work my ass off and cant afford the luxe condos nor do i qualify for any assistance"

So, screw the poor because you earn enough to not be able to live in the projects?

The problem with this country, and, apparently, NYC specifically is that the middle class constantly things they are more like the rich than they are the poor.

In reality, nearly every one of us hardworking semi-successful working middle class are one serious injury, one layoff, or one divorce away from pushed down the economic chain.

I am boggled how folks argue 'they get free health care, but I don't, so screw them...we should ALL suffer' rather than maybe arguing that perhaps we ALL should have free health care?

Some of the comments in this thread seem to reflect the exact problem in this NYC neighborhood. I 'have' so therefore, screw everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Okay, calm down. Let me give you some advice to help you when you feel all that anger and resentment coming on again.
You take a deep breath, and repeat these sentences:
1. I am not the only person in New York who works.
2. I am not the only person in New York who pays taxes.
Take a few more deep breaths, and you should start feeling better. I know, tax-victim fantasies can be very seductive, so try to be conscious of whenever you feel yourself getting excited, and just repeat those lines until you feel better. I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

J, thanks for your suggestions to breathe and to think. There seems to be an unawareness of a city's composition. There seems to be a preference for Me Thinking rather Us Thinking and this is hardly productive.

Anonymous said...

the inhabitants of those projects are entitled to their apartments as long as NYCHA owns them - that's it. they are entitled to the entire neighborhood - where does it end? if NYC is so concerned about affordable retail, let someone pass legislation and spend the money to put retail on the ground floors in those housing projects. i live in the area and actually dated a girl who lived in those projects who was intelligent and working hard to get out of them. there is no shame in being in a circumstance where you live in a housing project, it's just ridiculous to think that entitles you to dominate the entire neighborhood, especially when it comes to privately owned property.

Anonymous said...

I think you're thinking in the reverse again. Luxury develoment is not being summarily pushed out, so I don't think "domination" is the correct word to think of.

Oh, also, I'm happy to hear that girl you dated was "intelligent" despite living in a housing project. Was she "articulate" too?

Anonymous said...

Oh, before I forget. Let me apologize, Anon #10, if my original comment looked like I was including you in my “calm down” statement. I thought my first post would immediately follow the “everybody lives off my taxes, arrgh!” posts, but yours was obviously backed up in front of mine. So please everyone, when you read our posts just think of mine coming before Anon’s #10's (which was excellent, by the way). Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

I just want to echo anonymous #1. I was there and I when I heard Ms. Gonzalez I had a moment of clarity. Like holy shit, this woman in this wheelchair who has raised her family in this neighborhood against considerable odds is going to be completely marginalized and unable to provide for herself if all they have on this block is some yuppie shit.