Bloomberg: Friend to Developers or Preservationists?

To many New Yorkers, Bloomberg is known as the developer-friendly guy who upzoned much of New York City, paving the way for Atlantic Yards, skyscrapers in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City, and tons more developments. But to the Wall Street Journal, he’s the Mayor of Preservation: Under his appointee, Chairman of Landmarks Preservation Commission Robert Tierney, the City has landmarked 41 areas, more than any of his predecessors. (And to be fair, as Bloomberg upzoned, he also downzoned, limiting building to preserve the character of some residential areas.) Some of those landmarkings were not based on historic merit but driven strictly by a desire to control development, claimed Michael Slattery, Research Associate of the Real Estate Board of New York. Take, for example, the controversy over extending the Bed Stuy historic districts. “This is a very old-fashioned sort of neighborhood where everybody says hello, where people sit on the stoop,” said Claudette Brady of the Bedford Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation. “A lot of it was about new buildings — three-story things that were set back two feet or three feet from the street. Just god-ugly things.” Is the Mayor unfair to developers? Or could it be that the LPC is finally getting around to its backlog of requests going back many years? What do you think?
Mayor of Preservation [WSJ]
Image by Stuyvesant East Preservation League

6 Comment

  • I think when we get some distance from his tenure, like a couple of years from now, it will be a mixed bag with a lot of positives and negatives on both sides of the preservation line.

    I think a great deal of the positives have to be laid at the feet of Robert Tierney, a political appointee with no preservation experience, who found himself in the right job. I’ve been in small meetings and large hearings with him many times, and even gave a presentation for him once, and have watched him. He’s been absolutely delighted and enthralled by the discoveries of our city’s architectural history. He may have been put there to fill the office, but once there, he’s found himself.

    Of course, we haven’t won all of our battles, and he and the Commission have flubbed more than a few, but on the whole, especially those of us in the “outer boroughs,” he has been an ally.

    I think the designations of residential neighborhoods have gone much smoother than of more public places, like Coney Island, parts of Manhattan, etc. I also think Manhattan is such an uphill battle for preservation, it would be hard for any Commissioner to prevail, up against both the very powerful forces of development and real estate in this city, and up against his boss, who is development crazy.

    Considering what the LPC has to work with – the smallest budget of any city agency, too little staff and resources, and a huge backlog, some of it due to the usual bureaucratic bs, which likes to over complicate everything, considering all that, they’ve done an amazing job protecting the architectural gems of this city. The next task at hand will be to make sure whoever the next mayor is, he or she advances that work. The next Commissioner of the LPC needs to be a professional preservationist.

  • Your right MM Robert Tierney has been such a great man to work with. I think it is really unfair to him and his staff that they have to smallest budget in the city. The LPC has done so much good work in the last decade. I really hope that the next administration continues this legacy.

  • I agree with Montrose and would add that no sector has benefited more from the preservation movement than the real estate industry. It is ironic that REBNY as champion of that industry has taken a very public and aggressive stance against preservation and the Landmarks Commission. To me they come across as bullies and blowhards who rather than saying “thank you” are saying “drop dead”. They seem oblivious to the huge profits that have been made in the real estate industry over the course of this Mayor’s tenure. The fight over the area surrounding Grand Central Terminal is a case in point. To many of us, the area is already over-built, you can barely walk on the sidewalk or come up from the subway platforms as is. And yet REBNY and the mayor is claiming that the problem with the area is that there are too many old buildings. And that we should be more like Shanghai or Abu Dhabi and build more hundred-story commercial towers. I find that whole argument nuts because if anything, those cities are dying to be more like New York.

  • No one can possibly consider REBNY impartial on the subject of historic preservation. And I agree, Bob has done an incredible job. Not prefect, but he corrected the Manhattan-centric focus of LPC and empowered the Research Department to study individual structures and historic districts (e.g.: Borough Hall Skyscraper) that the agency has ignored in the past.

  • I live in a landmarked neighborhood and consider it a double-edged sword. But landmarking isn’t possible or appropriate everywhere. So my question is this: why can’t there be better planning and zoning regulations put in place to protect city streetscapes from the worst examples of new construction? It’s not always a question of preserving the old — which I’m all for. It’s also that there are no aesthetic standards for new buildings. Look at some of the small apartment buildings that have been thrown up in Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, South Slope… in the last 10 years. The buildings with tiny windows, thru-the-wall ACs, no sense of proper proportions, ugly ironwork, bad insulation, leaky windows, shoddy materials. There are too many s**tboxes making our neighborhoods ugly. These will be the slums of tomorrow. LPC does it’s best but where’s City Planning and DOB and what has Bloomberg done to make these agencies more efficient and responsive to the boroughs?

  • The City Planning Commission is basically a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Real Estate Board of New York. Planning in New York translates to how to increase profits for developers. While the public benefits of new developments are often touted, they often turn out to be empty promises. Ada Louise Huxtable called the buildings that took advantage of public plaza bonuses “zoning bonus turkeys” Their wind-swept plazas and large atriums were usually closed off in short order. That is why the Landmarks Commission, tiny and low-budget compared to City Planning, has been such a huge factor in how New York has evolved over the past forty years. Here is an agency who is not (usually) in the developer’s pocket but actually helps neighborhoods who wish to maintain their quality of life. No wonder there is a full court press to discredit the LPC now.