Monday, November 7, 2016

On a Clear Day

Just a few blocks of Fourth show the contrasts in scale luxury development has wrought. I think those older buildings hold up very nicely in the looks factor.

On marathon day, with the street free of traffic & the sun shining bright, you'll get a sharper-eyed look at the avenue.  A decade or so ago, you'd see a clear run of three to five-story buildings - mostly-red-brick - clear along Fourth:  small-scale apartment buildings and small, independent businesses. Auto repair shops, grocery stores, laundromats and beauty parlors.  Funeral homes, restaurants, storefront churches, liquor stores.  Businesses cleaving to the needs and occupations of the residents who lived close by.  Today the avenue's broken up by building-lot gaps & high-rise, almost exclusively market-rate rental & condo buildings, a result of 2003 & 2005 rezoning. In 2003 Amanda Burden saw rezoning - allowing more development along the Fourth corridor - as imperative in saving the "extraordinary" brownstone housing stock up the slope, and Craig Hammerman subscribed to the Brooklyn Boulevard model of Fourth Avenue development:

''As far as the building form, we can liken it to Park Avenue in Manhattan: It's the same width; it has the same medians that could use some beautifying,'' said Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6 and a supporter of the plan. ''We think it's appropriate, that it could become a canyon of housing. And frankly, if it's good enough for Park Avenue in Manhattan, it's good enough for Park Slope.''

Well he got the canyon part right, and it got an influx of affluent new residents, but any comparison of Fourth to Park is both an absurdity and a betrayal of the neighborhood's history. And I doubt that Park was ever described, as Hammerman said of Fourth, as a "safety valve." It's true that Fourth Avenue has seen grander days, with planted medians, and broad sidewalks, but on the whole it was always a solidly middle and working class neighborhood.  It didn't need to "burgeon," "develop," "arrive," or be "discovered" over the course of the last few years. It already existed. While it may have declined in the 70's and 80's, along with the city as a whole, it rebounded, and offered solid housing stock for a tight-knit community.  To undervalue its worth is an act of ignorance. Rezoning served only to cause detriment to this community, with demolition and development both on the avenue, and on a lower-density scale, on streets adjacent to it.  Small apartment buildings, and medium-sized multi-families (up to twenty units or so) became hot items for real estate investors, and affordable units disappeared. The 2005 rezoning's inclusionary housing incentives from 15th to 24th, turned out to be of little interest to developers and apart from a trickle of affordable units planned in recent months, the building-rush has produced only market-rate apartments.  Councilman Brad Lander has admitted that in retrospect, the 2005 rezoning was "largely a failure."  A recent DNAinfo report found a dramatic demographic change in the Gowanus area in recent years, with an 11% decline in the Latino population, and a 53% rise in the white population, a change that Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee (a post once held by Lander), attributed at least partially to rezoning:

Michelle de la Uz ...said the decline was the result of gentrification, “displacement pressures” and new development linked to the rezonings of north Park Slope in 2003 and south Park Slope in 2005.

By allowing taller residential development along Fourth Avenue, the rezonings hastened the demolition of rent-stabilized buildings along the avenue, many of which were home to Latinos, de la Uz said. They were replaced by new market-rate developments — a trend that continues to this day on Fourth Avenue.

If Fourth Avenue needed change, what it really deserved (and deserves still), along with traffic safety measures, was development serving low and middle income families - for families working on minimum wage, for nurses and teachers, for cooks and waitresses, for home-aides and social workers, for all those workers who hold the city together.  I'll admit it, it's the low-lying landscape I love the best, but I think many residents -myself included - would value new housing that genuinely preserved affordability.  To see a neighborhood eroded merely for Mammon's sake is an insult.

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