Sunday, December 30, 2007

What’s The Motivation?

Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.

Behind every great fortune there is a crime.
-- Honoré de Balzac (1799 - 1850)

When the Stella Adler Theatre Studio was located on the upper West Side during the 60’s, she had a reputation for getting to the bottom line with aspiring actors. Few got in the door without an interview that involved a soul-searching stare and a penetrating glare into the heart and mind of every thespian that passed through those portals. The heart of method acting, sort of an instant psychoanalysis, begged one crucial question: What’s my motivation?
What followed was the actor’s raison d’etre – his or her drive to acquire the persona, which they were to become – at least for that one role.

We have a series of actors on our Downtown stage too, known as the politicians and activists that are playing out their own theatrical spectacle, which we all hope will result in a rational social fabric. Perhaps the most important thread in that fabric, however, is crucial to the design of our city. Kevin Lynch, in his Theory of Good City Form offers the dimensions of a city’s performance: vitality, sense, fitness, access and control – and to that he also adds efficiency and justice. The vital city fulfills the needs of its inhabitants, who understand its form and function. A good city is one, which is arranged so that its citizens have a say in the management of the spaces in which they work and reside. City Planning, as a function, therefore relies on the legal tool of Zoning to put that plan into effect.

Take Downtown, or more specifically Hudson Square, SoHo and Tribeca. Tribeca appears to be somewhat rational. Lots of condo development with areas of commercial building, City government surrounded by the courts, and parks for the children. While it’s hard to understand how Wall Street, long the center of world finance and banking has remained dilapidated and archaic (especially in the Nassau/Ann/Fulton areas) as it has in certain areas, the rationality of its direction is understandable.

SoHo has expanded almost monolithically along the lines of residential development. Home to some of the highest prices per square footage in Manhattan, its zoning as manufacturing has only driven the cost of a residential variance skywards. But, the variances are almost always approved.
As you move further west, the mood gets a little dicier.

As you approach the border of SoHo and Hudson Square, things start to break down. Interspersed between condos on Avenue of the Americas and new hotels on Watts Street and Spring Street, there are Manufacturing facilities, commercial buildings still owned and operated by Trinity Church and a number of hotels, hotel-condos, condos, possible institutional structures and a few new residential developments – all on the books or in planning stages.
In other words, there appears to be no agency at the helm to modify or correct out of control development.

The results of this lack of planning, vested in our agency called City Planning, is playing out just as it appears – it’s the Wild West of Manhattan.

The take on the Bloomberg Administration, throughout the tenure of the now retired Dan Doctoroff, was and has been a benign and paternalistic attitude, which basically has come across, as “We know what’s best for you.”
This has played out through Doctoroff’s apparently neglectful method of pushing through what he felt was best.
With Bloomberg now sitting on $14 Billion in cash and harboring Presidential ambitions, one could understand how that degree of arrogance could exist – as the boys from Harvard run the ship. The fact that Doctoroff was unpopular, even among Bloomberg’s people, makes his appointment to Bloomberg media’s top post makes you wonder what information should not be shown the light of day.

As a result of the benign neglect of City Hall, Trump SoHo has set the stage for a completely out of scale building that perverts the meek zoning which currently does exist in Hudson Square. The City Council has run for cover and Bloomberg joked with The Donald about having Billions – and the concept of contextual zoning is buried.
There are several hotels either just completed or nearing completion in this area as well as a Department of Sanitation project -- a 14-story garage on Greenwich and Spring. The latter has prompted The Steering Committee, a group of individuals from the Hudson Square area, aided by Michael Kramer; a publicity operative who consults with this group as well as with St. John’s to seek alternative sites. St. John’s can go either way – commercial (hotel) or condo – but they just want to know which way. In this instance, the condo owners across from the site are not at all happy with the zoning mix, which is arguably going to happen. The Charrette which this group has devised, with much fanfare, is precisely what City Planning has failed to do – they have proposed a zoning plan.

So, Western SoHo zoning is adrift as is Hudson Square. What is being done about it? Very little.

Christine Quinn has discussed a request that City Planning re-zone this area. City Planning’s response is that there is no plan to do so.

Meanwhile companies like Bayrock erect buildings like Trump SoHo – and activist organizations organize to sue – which our revered leader Mr. Bloomberg has allowed to happen. Rather than take the lead and review the credentials of the players in that development and the effect it will have on an area whose zoning is adrift, he jokes about it.
Donald Trump is a 5 per center (his part of that deal) and has little to do with its construction other than his name.
A Mr. Sater, a friend of Trump’s, is rumored to be either a partner or owner of Bayrock, and is a convicted criminal – whose association with Trump SoHo would make the condo plan illegal.
And, we have the elected officials sitting on their hands throughout this entire ruination of a potential jewel in Manhattan – a Manufacturing zone which could be developed as a rational plan that includes residential, institutional, commercial cooperation – augmented by parks and open space.

Political trends.

Eric Goia is an effective young member of the City Council who appears to be headed for a shot at the Public Advocate spot next time around. He has the look of a younger, more energetic, and more personable Andrew Cuomo. He’s persistent and intelligent. While we are happy Cuomo is where he is – reaching his staff during the campaign was impossible. Not so, Eric Goia.

The City Council race for District #1 where Alan Gerson will have been for eight years is still in the distance but as of this point it seems to primarily be sought by Pete Gleason, Madeleine Wils and Julie Menin. Wils may have the edge but Menin (whose detractors have grown) has the money – although Wils has access to deep pockets as well. A rumor that Kathryn Freed may return has been denied but should strike fear in the hearts of all who hear it – that plan to run for that spot. Pete Gleason and also McWater (of CB3) have been quiet as of late.

A rumor has circulated that Alan Gerson will be going on to NYU after leaving his City Council spot in ’09 – as he is term-limited.

The City Council spot that Quinn will leave in ’09 is being sought after by Brad Hoylman, current Chair of Community Board #2 and Vice President/General Counsel of PFNYC (Partnership for New York City), a business group created by David Rockefeller which merged with the New York Chamber of Commerce in 2002. Henry Kravis had charge of its investment fund. Hoylman is also President of GLID, a Democratic Club that is hooked in to many of the gay (and straight) politicians. It should not be lost on anyone downtown that there would be BIG money, in theory at least, supporting Hoylman’s run for Quinn’s seat.

While Hoylman will likely have the support of Quinn, Tom Duane and possibly Deborah Glick, he will have at least one formidable opponent in Andrew Berman, Executive Director of GVSHP, a very visible non-profit organization that has supported many Downtown initiatives involving housing and zoning. Hoylman is also making his presence known in the community but the strong business connections (PFNYC) does pose a question mark with reference to his frame of reference.

Floaters have also been mentioned – such as Maria Derr, former Board #2 Chair – who is know to also have an interest in Glick’s Assembly seat but may be thinking of a lesser starting out point.
She recently sold a development parcel on Seventh Avenue and with her Passanante background seems unlikely to be hurting for money.

Since Arthur Schwartz is known to have spent something in the neighborhood of $80,000 to challenge Larry Moss for State Committee – and won – we can only imagine the amounts being contemplated for a City Council race. Obviously, running for City Council is not based upon the salary being offered.

The money and the power in politics – comes in other, less direct ways.
But, it does arrive at some point.
Ask Chuck Schumer about the big money donations known to have found a way into his campaign fund arriving via a Nursing Home guru – which is also embarrassing Tom Spota – current D.A. of Suffolk County.

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