Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ken Jackson's Towering Oversights - Thanks for Your Comments!

On Friday, September 6, the New York Times published a letter to the editor written by LW! President Arlene Simon responding to Professor Kenneth T. Jackson’s August 30 op-ed titled “Gotham’s Towering Ambitions.”  On Saturday, September 7, we invited you to join us in responding to Professor Jackson.  Here are a few of your comments, along with Arlene’s original letter below.  Thank you for your responses – keep them coming!  

Arlene’s original letter to the New York Times, published Sept. 6, 2013

Re: “Gotham’s Towering Ambitions,” by Kenneth T. Jackson (NYT, Aug. 30):

To the Editor:

Kenneth T. Jackson knows better than to mix the zoning issues at stake in East Midtown with a different set of issues involved in landmark preservation.

As a city planning tool, zoning is used to manage sustainable growth for the future, while landmark preservation seeks to protect our architectural and cultural resources that give our cities character, identity and historical context. These two tools are complementary, not conflicting.

Preservationists do not seek to block all change. Rather, we work to accommodate and reconcile growth and change to the existing built environment so that our neighborhoods remain livable and attractive to residents, business owners and visitors alike. 

President, Landmark West!
New York, Aug. 30, 2013

Your letters to LANDMARK WEST!


Arlene Simon's responses to Kenneth Jackson's are excellent.  I am delighted to be a member of Landmark West!'s board, and I completely support Arlene's letters.

Board Member, LANDMARK WEST!
New York, Sept. 7, 2013


Who, indeed, would have thought that Jackson turns out to be, at this crucial moment in the history of the metropolis of which he is one of the leading historians -- of all things -- in the proverbial pay of the robber barons of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY)?

For shame.

New York, Sept. 7, 2013


Thanks for succinct letter reply in the New York Times; well written.

New York, Sept. 7, 2013


Right on, Arlene!

New York, Sept. 7, 2013


Any further development of Midtown East is only in the interest of rich developers trying to get richer--not in the interest of New Yorkers trying to enjoy and appreciate their rich history. These developers die and we're left with their junk.

We need to landmark Broadway between 79th and 96th before it's too late. Northern historic Broadway is disappearing--let's stop it.

New York, Sept. 7, 2013


This is another example of bringing in a so-called expert to legitimize a corporate agenda by trumpeting one argument and ignoring the other many excellent arguments that disprove the first. Unfortunately, it is standard practice and we should see it for what it is.

The bottom line for any discussion about how to develop or not develop in a city should be quality of life -- not change, not being a wonder city. It should be about how its residents live and work in the city to enhance both. This is the healthy future, and to the extent that quality of life is pursued will be the extent to which the people will love the city. Quality of life makes the wonder city.

A core example is the greatness and importance of Central Park to New York City.  Remember when we fought a high rise adjacent to the park because of what its shadow would do to the viability of the living infrastructure of the park itself? In large part, it is Central Park that makes the city livable. Another part is the beauty of the visible environment itself, namely, the varied array of great architecture.  In a walking city, which is especially New York City, the details of the architecture of its past is exactly what gives richness to every day walking. Preservation conveys quality of life. If we had done much more of it, New York would have indeed been a wonder city. We can't stop now with what is left.

The ancient Greeks, whom we revere, believed in two other fundamentals as a formula for creating quality in life, and after 2500 years they are still rock solid. They are "proportion" and "nothing in excess". This is why overgrowth must be a part of the discussion. It involves the robbery from the people of sunlight and the clogging of the urban arteries of movement.  Excess itself is never sustainable.

There is another important thought: what is the normal habitat for a human being? We study animal habitats as a way of understanding their requirements for survival. We too are animals. How far can a city depart from normal human habitat and expect normal human behavior, or even sanity?  This is why the core policy of a city must be to guide change toward quality of life for all citizens and visitors. Architectural preservation is critical to that goal.


New York, Sept. 8, 2013


It is truly perplexing and disappointing that Kenneth T. Jackson, one of the world's foremost New York City historians continues to balk at the cause of historic preservation at every turn.
I'm surprised Jackson cannot recognize the inherent historic and cultural value and distinction that preservation brings (as one respondent to his article mentioned, preservation is a wonderful way to experience history first-hand), not to mention economically-stimulated neighborhoods and improved property values. Can anyone honestly say that the SoHo Historic District is devoid of the density and excitement about which Mr. Jackson loves to wax poetic? The DUMBO Historic District has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the whole city.

Also, Jackson seems to forget that New York's identity was forged not just by wild speculative development, but by sensible building regulations such as the Tenement House Act of 1901 and the 1916 Zoning Law, which provided for light, air, health and safety.

Lastly, like Edward Glaeser, Jackson falls into the trap of thinking that just because there is more historic preservation in NYC than in 1965, preservation is going to somehow "freeze" the whole city (which is something no preservationists want). As of March 2012, only 3% of the total amount of buildings in NYC have landmark status. That leaves approximately 966,600 plots in which developers may alter and/or demolish to their hearts' content!
All this is in addition to the fact that Jackson brushes aside the plethora of issues besides historic preservation that will be potentially affected by this rezoning - affordable housing, lack of hotel construction, piling more office space on top of the 4/5/6 line that's already at 116% capacity, not to mention on top of the new Long Island Rail Road Grand Central connection, and there is just no way the 2nd Avenue line will be able to wave a magic wand and alleviate most of the congestion.  Maybe Jackson should ride the 6 train every once and a while.

New York, Sept. 9, 2013

The writer is a candidate for M.S. in Historic Preservation and Urban Planning at the Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.


When I read Professor Jackson's "op-ed", I was sitting in Knightsbridge, London.  I had just visited some of the most beautiful buildings in the world, many of which are hundreds of years old.  Many are still serving their initial purpose but many others have been refurbished and repurposed as elegant homes, beautiful offices and shops and high end embassies and consulates.  I had to wonder what on earth Professor Jackson is suggesting.  Would he demolish the center of London?  Would he tear down the beautiful townhouses?  People come from all over the world to see the ancient and not so ancient buildings but nevertheless landmark buildings that line the streets of London.  

Are there new buildings in London?  Of course there are but building them hasn't required the wholesale demolition of the City's architectural and cultural gems. The beautiful human scale in the historic neighborhoods has been maintained and green spaces and squares dot the City.   Each spot of open space is not re-zoned at the drop of a developer's hat. 

New York isn't loosing its luster, if it is, because of preservation.  It is suffering from the Mayor's lack of respect for neighborhoods and the residents who live in them. It is suffering from the Mayor's lack of attention to basic City services like street cleaning. Professor Jackson's article makes it clear that those who reside in of the City don't matter and neither do their opinions about how their City will be developed.  The only "people" that matter are billionaire developers who take the tax money that should be going to schools, streets, drainage and infrastructure to build high rises for other billionaires. That is not the way it is supposed to work. 

Landmarking and preservation isn't about stopping change – it’s about managing it, giving the public a voice and protecting the City's cultural and architectural heritage. It’s about protecting small business and the fabric of the City.  Landmarking and preservation improves quality of life for the people who live in the City and those who come and visit here and work here.  It is a win-win for everyone.  This isn't just my opinion--there are plenty of statistics to prove it!

Professor Jackson's specific attack on LW! should be worn as a badge of honor.  FDR said it best:  "I welcome their hate."  He knew he was doing the right thing for the people and so do we at LW!

As to the East midtown rezoning, we all know that it is nothing more than a parting gift from the Mayor to his developer friends. It has to be rushed through.  It must be done NOW.  Considering the urgency with which the Mayor is pressing it one would think that only by doing this rezoning just as the developers want it will we save the world or, at least, the City of New York!  But of course that isn't true.  It  is just that the Mayor sees public opinion and input from neighborhoods and residents as obstacles, something to be demeaned and avoided at all costs whether it involves development, zoning, land use or education policy.   

I am sure that Professor Jackson has his reasons for such a muddled attack on preservation, but I won't speculate on what they are.   

Board Member, LANDMARK WEST!
New York, Sept. 9, 2013


As I drive through my adopted state of New Jersey looking at cookie cutter suburbs and soulless office parks, I hope that Landmark West! keeps on doing what it does best -- saving the character, personality, and history of New York's Upper West Side. New York will grow and change -- but it still needs to appreciate and protect what makes it special: the row houses, houses of worship, apartment buildings, shops, tenements, brownstones, and parks from past centuries.  Keep on keepin' on!

New Jersey, Sept. 10, 2013

Kenneth Jackson is in bad company. The real estate industry has raised $10 Million to buy a City Council that will support its “Build uber alles” campaign.  No surprise there.  The real estate developers have always opposed landmarking vociferously, and have always bought and paid for zoning preferences and loop-holes that permit obscene towers to the sky.  But for Professor Jackson, normally a thoughtful observer, to join the Neanderthals to bring us Hong Kong on the Hudson?  Pity.

Board Member, LANDMARK WEST!

No comments: