Friday, November 20, 2009

On the Sunny Side of the Streetsblog

As many of you might recall, the Alliance and the folks at Transportation Alternatives, don't always see eye to eye-particularly when it came to the mayor's proposal on congestion pricing. But when it comes to over development, we're all on the same page-as the following commentary from Dr. Ronald Schiffman on the TA web site, Streetsblog, underscores:

"When Michael Bloomberg was first elected eight years ago, I and many others thought such a wealthy mayor might assert his independence from developers who choose to serve their own self-interest at the expense of the city's long term needs. Six years later, the release of PlaNYC 2030 finally gave hope to that desire. The mayor put forth a vision that, despite some shortcomings, promised a framework for sustainable, equitable growth. For all the city's progress toward advancing those goals, however, it has taken several steps backward by continuing to build real estate projects that erode the walkable city."

What Schiffman is recognizing is the fact that Mike Bloomberg, for all of his vaunted independence, still acts as a handmaiden of the city's real estate interests-and the results, at least as far as reducing the city's carbon footprint, and advancing sustainability, speak for themselves. This is true for Willets Point, as well as for other large, auto-dependent, real estate developments that the city has done:

"In these developments, the street is nothing more than square footage added to permit greater building heights and densities. Streets in these developments divide rather than integrate neighborhoods. Traffic lights are recalibrated, for instance, to facilitate the flow of traffic and hinder pedestrian movement by reducing crossing times. Perversely, these measures are dubbed “mitigation” in the environmental review process. Without them, the development would not be allowed to proceed. This is because the developments include more space for car parking than needed -- far above the norm in New York City -- creating more traffic and necessitating such "mitigations."

Schiffman throws down the gauntlet to the mayor-saying he has four years left to rectify all that he has wrought:

"To build a sustainable city, we need to think and plan on a small scale, not just the mega-project scale. We need to engage more New Yorkers in the process of building neighborhoods, not just the politically connected or wealthy. The place where everything comes together, where we all meet and interact, and where sustainable planning must begin, is the street. The mayor has the intellect and the openness to understand this. He now has four years to reinforce what his administration has done well so far. Four years to change direction from past mistakes. Four years to focus on what has been ignored until now."

While we never want to discourage folks from appealing to Mike Bloomberg's better nature, it is our view that the sustainability platform has been grafted on to the mayor-and has never been part of his very essence. That essence is nurtured by a particular class-based word view, and is intertwined with the interests of the very forces that Dr. Schiffman feels are harming the city.

If it comes down to a choice of which direction to go-as it did when Costco was proposed for 59th Street and 11th Avenue-Mike Bloomberg instinctively goes for what he feels in his gut; and carbon foot prints and sustainability concerns will always to a back seat to the mayor's support for the goals and objectives of NYC's permanent government.

If the direction of the city is to change in regards to the issues that Schiffman and TA hold dear, than it will only happen when other forces are arrayed against what the mayor will inevitably be promoting in the next four years. And when it comes to Willets Point, with its 80,000 car trips and 2500 truck trips a day, we look forward to working with the transportation and environmental advocates to, paraphrasing the words of Rousseau, force Mike to be free.