Monday, March 10, 2008

A Failure to Communicate

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
-- Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would hire them away.
-- Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)

When Paul Newman had his little disagreement with the Sheriff in Cool Hand Luke, the lack of communication was due to his status as prisoner who failed to do what he was told, the way he was told to do it. When you have a gun to your head, when you are subject to the whims of your controllers, you do what you are told.

Theoretically, that is not supposed to apply to the City telling SoHo and its residents what to do and how to do it.

Let’s take, for example, the fascination that the D.O.T. has with Prince Street.
Residents of Prince Street in particular, and of SoHo in general suffer from some of the most ambitious ideas that people from everywhere else seem to have for this arts community. We, in SoHo are being told what we should do with our community.

First, there were the warehouses and printing companies.
Then, there were the artists and bohemians. Painters, performance artists, guerrilla sculptors, dancers, photographers and a few “mentally forward” thinkers. Alone, living their lives in peace. Privacy, creativity and intense philosophies of existence were part of this identity.
After that came the pioneers who paid fixture fees and expanded loft spaces for counter-culture living. The Loft Law, sponsored by Kathryn Freed, followed.
Of course, what came afterwards were street vendors, real estate developers and the swells from everywhere else that wanted part of the action. The problem is, the swells and those with a “vision” have not taken the time to understand what the residents of SoHo want. They want what they want or what they think SoHo should want. On our turf.

Ergo, we have a failure to communicate – and a disinterest on the part of those who have a “vision” to truly understand what SoHo is really about.
The spirit of SoHo is about its gothic architecture, NOT mainstream culture, NOT the Mall mentality, and certainly NOT about Street Fairs. It is about the celebration of individuality. All those who have descended upon SoHo, including tourists, vendors and film companies – are not here because they have been invited. They are here because they have wanted to share a slice of what SoHo was – and hopefully will continue to have.

The D.O.T. has a new fascination with SoHo augmented by the personal desires of a Mr. Schaller.

After having pushed the bike lanes through against the wishes of SoHo residents (due to safety concerns for the bikers and residents on a very narrow Prince Street) – having ignored the problem of street vendors who sell anything BUT art – thereby nullifying any reason for being on the SoHo streets --except for the fact that there are a lot of pedestrians to sell to and these people need a job ---

D.O.T. has now decided that SoHo needs a Mall on Prince Street.

It is building upon a situation that SoHo has had to tolerate. Not a condition that is either wanted or appreciated by residents. Acceptance of an unfortunate reality cannot and should not be interpreted to mean that it is desired.

Why does SoHo need a Mall on a street that is very difficult to pass – due to vendors and an ill-advised bike lane (which should have been on Houston with barriers to protect Cyclists)?
Emergency vehicles, Fire Department vehicles, police, you know, all of those vehicles that need access TO PROTECT RESIDENTS – have a difficult time as it is, trying to negotiate a street that has been unnecessarily encumbered by vendors -- in order to service its residents.

The answers to this little morality play, in which people NOT from SoHo wish to dictate what we do with our neighborhood, lies somewhere between Bruce Schaller who was a paid consultant to D.O.T. and who now works for D.O.T. and Margaret Forgione, the Commissioner.
The monster in all of this is typically Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance. Sweeney and the Alliance has had the temerity to object to the fact that neither the vendors nor the tourists who will theoretically be accommodated by this weekly Mall experience, are not for the benefit of SoHo residents.

As a result, several groups whose vision for SoHo is seen from afar have attacked him and the organization. Certainly not from within SoHo.

Commissioner Forgione has claimed that Henry Buhl of the SoHo Partnership was contacted and favors the plan.
While Buhl has done much for homeless people who need to straighten out their lives, he, himself, would no doubt agree that he does not speak for many SoHo residents. His people clean the streets of SoHo but while it is a non-profit organization, he's running a business. His memory of the Forgione contacts belies a bit of a possible PR hustle. More to the tune of, "sure, I like a party too."
Ian Dutton, a member of Community Board #2, is also a member of the organization who advocates for bike lanes as well as this new Mall. He is a proponent of this plan and supports an organization which has attacked those who disagree with the Mall (Dutton is allied and associated with Streetsblog and the StreetRenaissance organization). Where does one's agenda end and concern for the community's wishes begin?
While the SoHo Alliance does not speak for all SoHo residents, its membership is a strong cross-section of both old and new SoHo residents. It comes as close as you can get to being a voice of the people who live in SoHo. And, both Sweeney and the Alliance pre-dates all of this "we know what's best for SoHo" bullshit.

A Mall is not what residents want in SoHo. Bike lanes have been implemented and are now part of SoHo. It’s a leap of faith to reach from your bike to embrace vendors who are strongly objected to by most residents, to a mall which deprives SoHo residents of THEIR lanes to drop off groceries, the inability to pick up THEIR children in their vehicles, receive THEIR deliveries, or walk out of THEIR apartments onto a SoHo street without entering a Coney Island atmosphere.

But, then again, whose neighborhood is this anyway?

What do you say Margaret – Bruce – do we have a failure to communicate?
Or, are you just going to continue tell us what to do with OUR neighborhood -- from where you live?