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New York City Not For Sale: The Fight Against Overdevelopment

October 15, 2018

By Silver Krieger

New York, NY – This weekend, large groups of protestors showed up in suddenly cold temperatures on the steps of City Hall for a “Rally for our Neighborhoods.”

Protesters fill the steps of City Hall on Saturday.

 Over 60 neighborhood groups, led by Human-Scale NYC, a non-profit group that focuses on developing “human-scale” policy agenda, as opposed to the large-scale development growth that has boomed in NYC in recent years, co-sponsored the event to voice their outrage and demand change. Groups included The Campaign to Stop REBNY Bullies, The Chinatown Working Group, Citizens Defending Libraries, Concerned Citizens for Community Based Planning, El Barrio United, and the Historic Districts Council, among many others.

The rally had four themes: opposition to big real estate’s influence on regulatory agencies and lawmakers; opposition to the seizure of public assets such as NYCHA land, sky, parks and libraries for private development; an end to the “affordable housing” scam where neighborhoods are destroyed by luxury towers; and a call for reforms to campaign finance laws, zoning codes and community boards.

Chants of “New  York City Not For Sale,” “Our Neighborhoods Not For Sale,” and “REBNY [Real Estate Board of New York] Out Of Our Politicians’ Pockets” began the event, and the chant was taken further as a vast array of neighborhood names were added to the list: Chinatown, Upper East Side, Chelsea, Harlem, Lower East Side, Inwood, East New York, and Sunset Park, to name just a few. 

Lynn Ellsworth, of the Tribeca Trust and Human-Scale NYC welcomed the swelling crowd, and noted that “I am shouting to be heard,” as no microphones or bullhorns are allowed outside City Hall on Saturdays. But the double meaning was obvious. “Overdevelopment is crowing our streets, subways, taking parks, displacing residents, selling our sky to oligarchs, and demolishing too much of our city,” she said. “If we continue to allow this to happen, our whole city will be one big Hudson Yards. It’s become clear our politicians, regulatory boards, and even community boards have been captured by big real estate. We have to find new people to run for office!”

It’s become clear our politicians, regulatory boards, and even community boards have been captured by big real estate. We have to find new people to run for office! — Lynn Ellsworth, Tribeca Trust, Human-Scale NYC

Steve Barrison, executive vice president of the Small Business Congress, was one of nearly 20 speakers who followed her. He led a chant of “Rigged at REBNY Hall,” and said the City was “in crisis.” “Empty streets speak loudly,” he said, declaring that “the first casualty on Main Street was the mom-and-pop store” which he called “the foundation of every community.” “The system is rigged by REBNY…the cause of the closings.” He called for political action, saying “We must hold every one of our council members responsible.” He also said hundreds of jobs were being lost each month as a result of the demise of small businesses.  He urged New Yorkers to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a bill that would revamp the commercial lease renewal process.

Advocates call out politicians in the pocket of big-money power brokers like REBNY.

Jeremiah Moss, author of “Vanishing New York” said “New York City once belonged to its people…today New York City is in a crisis of inequality. It is losing its soul. The only goal is endless growth, money and more money for the few. Endless growth is a cancer. It cares nothing about human life.” Moss also called out politicians and their statements that “a city must be run like a corporation.”

Joseph Rivera of the Elizabeth Street Garden spoke about how politicians have pitted the garden preservation groups against affordable housing, and asserted that the group has plans that could make space for both. However, he noted, “There’s the city’s plan and the community’s plan, and only one of them does not pit gardens against affordable housing.”

Land-use attorney Michael Hiller said politicians “only see the world through the lens of those who put them in power,” and quoted Robert Kennedy’s words “the future will be shaped by human activity,” so “let’s stop complaining and start doing.” He spoke of some recent wins, including the saving of the Merchant’s House Museum. “Next time a developer walks into your neighborhood tell them you will not back down!”

October 15, 2018

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