Posts tagged with "Manhattan":
Broadway, Manhattan’s longest street and a main commercial drag, spans the length of the island from hilly Inwood to Lower Manhattan’s breezy Bowling Green. There are shops from nose to tail, but a recent survey found that Broadway is also home to almost 200 vacant storefronts, dead zones on one of Gotham’s liveliest thoroughfares.
Glaring vacancies aren’t limited to Broadway though. From Madison and Fifth Avenue to Broadway in Soho and Bleeker Street in the West Village, high-end commercial strips in Manhattan are having trouble attracting commercial tenants. A healthy vacancy rate is 5 percent, but some fancy areas are in the midst of high-rent blight, with one in five (20 percent) storefronts vacant.
Further north, in Washington Heights, a whole block of immigrant-owned businesses were essentially evicted after new landlords proposed a 100 percent rent increase and declined to renew their leases.
Why is this happening?
The causes are predictable, but the solutions are not.
High rent, high taxes, regulations that favor owners over tenants, and plain old capitalism—the incentive for owners to seek their property’s maximum value, and the consumer’s desire to acquire goods at the lowest price—all contribute to the twin plagues of vacancy and the mall-ification (national chains displacing small, local businesses) of Manhattan. Stakeholders, though, disagree on what should be done to solve a growing crisis at street level.
This spring, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office (MBPO) recruited volunteers to count all the vacant storefronts along Broadway, citing a dearth of information on how many vacancies exist, and where. The survey follows an effort from two years ago where the office reached out to small businesses and offered potential policy solutions to businesses’ problems.
But first the report had to determine what a small business is, a question that is not as obvious as it seems.
The federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) measures business size by number of employees or the company’s value, depending on the sector. The Small Business Act, though, uses a measure that doesn’t exactly conjure visions of mom-and-pops: It says small businesses have fewer than 500 employees. Under the same rules, a microbusiness has fewer than five employees and requires $35,000 in capital or less to get going.
In New York State, small businesses are companies that employ fewer than one hundred people, while New York City’s Department of Small Business Services doesn’t set a number. Instead, it encourages any self-identifying businesses to seek out its resources.
Consequently, the MBPO’s March 2015 report called for a standardized measure of “small,” and the recommendations in its report are geared toward firms with 15 or fewer employees.
No matter how you define them, it’s clear that the not-so-invisible hand of the market is driving these firms out of business on Manhattan’s main streets. One problem? Stratospheric commercial rent increases. In 2014, the average asking rent in Manhattan was $65.14 per square foot. With ever-more high-income individuals flooding Manhattan, landlords are reluctant to offer 10- or 15-year commercial leases lest they get stuck with a lower-paying tenant as commercial land values in the neighborhood skyrocket.
Other problems, the report found, include businesses not having enough insurance, delaying tax payment, and under-budgeting for utilities. On the city side, some business owners in the report cited punitive agency inspectors who, instead of working with the owner to correct an issue, slapped the business with a fine.
Additional solutions don’t seem politically viable or aren’t effected at a scale that works.
A special tax for businesses in most of Manhattan eats into viability, too. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected the city council's proposal to alter commercial rent tax, an almost four percent surcharge on annual rent of $250,000 or more on businesses below 96th Street. As rents have risen, the tax threshold has stayed the same, and more businesses have become impacted. A bill (sponsored by Councilmember Dan Garodnick) that would raise the ceiling to $500,000 in annual rent didn’t make it into the final 2018 budget, though the item could be considered at a later date. If that limit were approved, the city would lose $52 million in revenue annually.
Zoning regulations encourage new development with huge storefronts that work for Chase and CVS but not for their independent counterparts. On the Upper West Side, though, neighbors are seeing mixed success from initiatives like a 2012 zoning change that limited storefronts to 25 feet, but don’t limit store size, as businesses are free to expand up or down as space permits.
But some advocates say these reforms don’t go far enough to stop business closures and the encroachment of chain stores.
“There is a crisis,” said Kirsten Theodos, cofounder of TakeBackNYC, an advocacy group for New York City small businesses. New York is losing 1,000 small businesses and 8,000 jobs per month. Theodos, who lives near the East Village, said all of this “fuels the hyper-gentrification and whitewashing of the city, a process that’s really accelerated over the past six years.”
Her group supports the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a piece of local legislation that would set new rules around renewing commercial leases. Among other provisions, SBJSA would give commercial tenants, at minimum, a ten-year lease plus right to renewal and the option of arbitration to come to a new rent. The legislation is designed to slow, not stop, the rate of change in neighborhoods, and level the playing field for florists and bakeries competing for storefronts with Starbucks and Pottery Barn.
When the bill was first introduced in 2014, it had the support of 17 councilmembers—now it has the support of 26, or half the council. But in a city dominated by real estate interests, the bill is a nonstarter, Theodos explained. REBNY, the city’s largest real estate trade association, opposes the proposed rules, rallying around the idea that land values are subject to the “free market” and (incorrectly) deeming the rules “rent control.”
Even real estate boosters, though, acknowledge the downtrends in the market. According to REBNY, average asking rents in Manhattan this past spring fell in 14 of 17 of the borough’s top shopping strips compared with 2016 and record highs in 2014 and 2015. But the group maintains that a variety of factors set Manhattan apart from the suburbs, and grant the city a degree of immunity from experts’ dire predictions about the death of retail. In New York, REBNY says there are “strong market fundamentals,” including diverse food tenants, online retailers opening storefronts, and the eternal cache of a New York, NY address.
But to REBNY, doing well means collecting more rent. Fifth Avenue between 14th and 23rd streets (the Flatiron Fifth Avenue corridor) and Broadway between Battery Park and Chambers Street (the Lower Manhattan corridor) did the best, with ground floor rents rising by 18 percent to $456 per square foot in the Flatiron and 11 percent to $362 per square foot along the Lower Manhattan corridor. The report only looks at rents along main strips. Rents on side streets, according to the report, could diverge from the main drag; conversely, a gorgeous space on a prime corner may command greater asking rent and affect averages all along the strip.
It’s not only high rents and taxes that are driving businesses to close. Online shopping is slaying retailers big and small, in Manhattan and the suburbs and beyond. Right now, unchecked real estate speculation and limited protections for small-business owners mean that there is little protection against ultimately having a national bank and pharmacy on every corner.
The proposal, approved 42-0, updates the area’s zoning code to incentivize new, dense development and revitalize the flagging business area in order to compete with the Financial District and Hudson Yards. The 78 blocks in the area are currently home to more than 250,000 jobs and generate ten percent of the city’s property tax base, according to a New York Daily News article penned by Councilman Daniel Garodnick. The city anticipates 6.5 million square feet of office space being added to East Midtown.
Developers can build higher and gain more floor-area-ratio (FAR) by either buying landmarked air rights or making specific transit improvements (targeted mainly at subway stations). Several recent changes include the lowering of the air rights minimum: developers can purchase air rights at $61.49 per square foot, of which the proceeds will go toward a public realm fund. Developers are also required pay upfront for transit improvements if they choose to go that route; buildings will not be occupiable until those improvements are finished.“The goal is to improve Midtown, not keep it as it is,” Councilman Garodnick said at the meeting.
The city has committed $50 million to start improving public spaces—before anything is built—and the first project includes a shared street on 43rd Street, near Grand Central Terminal. Over the next 20 years, the city estimates that up to 16 properties could take advantage of the rezoning.
The garment industry—and its district in west Midtown, New York—continues to be underappreciated within a city that has transitioned to one that consumes material goods rather than producing them. As recently as 2009, alternative zoning was proposed in an attempt to consolidate all the manufacturers into one building in the Garment District (see our 2009 article “Shrink to Fit”). This spring, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which supports manufacturers, proposed to eliminate the special zoning laws that promote the preservation of industrial space in the district. This current zoning overlay requires a one-to-one replacement of manufacturing space when (in general) a landlord converts space to commercial use, but it has been loosely enforced. While the proposal maintains the existing industrial zoning, it is not favored by the manufacturing community, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, community boards, or groups such as the Garment District Alliance, Design Trust for Public Space, and the Municipal Art Society, among others. Together, these parties, who have requested additional time to review the proposal, have formed a steering committee in advance of the formal land-use review process (ULURP), slated to commence in August 2017.
The new proposal would also place limits on construction of new hotels in the area, which are considered “industrial use,” but has pressured industrial owners to sell. The city promises $15 million in technical assistance and costs for relocation into city-owned spaces in the Brooklyn Army Terminal ($100 million capital investment) or a future city-operated garment center building in Sunset Park ($136 million capital investment) to be completed in 2020. However, the synergy of the interdependent ecosystem of designers, contract manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors still has an irreplaceable value, even as it erodes.
Two alternate propositions:
Instead of removing the preservation requirements of the District’s zoning, I am proposing two scenarios to sustain the Garment District’s dense cluster of what I call “Vertical Urban Factories.” One approach could be to embrace the District’s organic mix of garment industries and residential, office, and retail space in a unique hybrid building type. Industrial preservation requirements could instead be tightened through “mandatory inclusionary manufacturing,” similar to the mayor’s plan for requirements for housing in newly rezoned areas.
Most mixed-use industrial districts (or “MX” districts) are proven to tip toward residential and commercial development because of the higher rents they command, and building owners profit from the industrial conversion to more lucrative uses. The Garment District is no different; it is an industrial zone, with other nonindustrial uses allowed. But since fashion is a lighter industry, like other niche design-driven industries, it is actually clean and quiet and can be easily integrated with office and residential uses in the same buildings. What if the higher-value residential tenants could consciously support the lower-rent garment tenants (or other light manufacturing spaces) through cross-subsidies? The result would be a diverse mix of making, selling, playing, and living; creating a 24/7 work-live community. The ground floor could remain retail space relating to the supplies that comprise the products—buttons, zippers, sequins, fabrics—while the lower and middle floors, where the showrooms are often located, would be required to be maintained as factories. The upper floors could contain the higher-value showrooms, and commercial and residential units. In reverse, new hotels could be required to house garment manufacturing, and guests could have a unique experience of watching manufacturing from their hotel rooms!
Another approach is to make the garment workers visible, injecting energy into the area with new physical transparency, exposing the industrial mysteries of workers making patterns, cutting, sewing, and pleating fabrics, in what I call the “consumption of production.” The emergence of industry-as-spectacle combines retail with making, so that the consumer also can see into the process from beginning to end, in our experience economy. This would be part of a longtime tradition of urban merchants and their workshops, or even the phenomenon of open kitchens in restaurants, and follows new interests in authenticity. In this new context, it combines another hybrid of retail-factory spaces for urban chocolatiers, coffee roasters, and bakers bringing street life to cities. In doing so, we can redefine and bolster the dynamism and diversity of our innovative and productive city.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer formally announced today that she opposed the city’s proposal to rezone East Harlem; the rezoning would bring more high-rise residential development to the area.
In a detailed report, Brewer cited the proposed concentrated density along Third and Park Avenues, a lack of new affordable housing units, and a failure to preserve existing affordable housing units as reasons for rejecting the proposal. She also criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for not taking into account the concerns raised by Community Board 11.
"We are left with an incomplete picture of what the impact of this application will be and how we can ensure the better future for the community promised by the applicant," Brewer wrote. "Ultimately, the current proposal falls short in both the land use and the programmatic categories."
The rezoning proposal would allow the buildings in a 96-block stretch of East Harlem to be built higher in order to incentivize development in the neighborhood. Consequently, according to Brewer, the plan would enable building forms that would tip the balance towards market-rate development and not affordable housing.
The proposal has incited backlash and controversy from the neighborhood’s residents; a Community Board 11 meeting in June descended into chaos when residents stormed the stage. Locals fear that rezoning will only expedite the rapid gentrification that is spreading.The rezoning is part of Mayor de Blasio's broader push to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.
But East Harlem, while a neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of affordable housing, has been steadily losing its affordable housing stock. About 80 percent of the people who live in the neighborhood live in some form of regulated housing and approximately 12,000 households that face severe housing needs, according to the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan (ENHP).
The ENHP was submitted to the administration in 2016, supported by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brewer, and focused on a bottom-up approach to de Blasio’s plan.
“Here, the community gave extensive, thoughtful and informed input, but the administration could not see its way to support significant elements of the community’s recommendations, which forces me to recommend a disapproval of the application,” Brewer said.
Although Brewer’s lack of support is non-binding, the plan is expected to undergo changes before making its way to the City Planning Commission and City Council.
Architecture should never be excused from conversations on gentrification, but building design often takes a back seat when we consider the various forces behind neighborhood change. Ultimately gentrification engages so many issues—of city planning and policy, of income and racial inequality, of housing discrimination—that it’s impossible to tackle one without bringing in the others. Through this lens, architecture becomes part of a much larger conversation about our cities, and also a powerful tool in efforts to make rapidly changing neighborhoods more equitable.
A gentrification story that lends itself easily to study and dissection can be found in Harlem, an Upper Manhattan enclave that emerged as the best-known African American neighborhood in America following the Great Migration of the early 1900s. One hundred years later, the neighborhood—still a stronghold for New York’s African American community—is also home to multimillion dollar townhouses, big-box retail, a soon-to-open Whole Foods, and a dramatic uptick in white residents. What happened? The latest author to tackle the subject is Brian D. Goldstein, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of New Mexico. His book, The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem, takes a multipronged approach to tackling that loaded question.
In his book, Goldstein explains how Harlem became a sort of testing ground for government-backed redevelopment throughout the 20th century—an often-hostile effort that sowed the seeds for more grassroots, community-led development. This push and pull between the government’s ambitions and community-based organizations persisted through the decades before the neighborhood essentially become a case study for “New York City Gentrification 101.” But the most fascinating question posed again and again by Harlem residents, and echoed throughout Goldstein’s book, is what the streets of Harlem should look like, who should design them, and who gets to inhabit them.
It would be a disservice to the book to boil down the many factors at play between Harlemites and the city government to decide that fate of the neighborhood. Goldstein makes the argument that Harlem’s recent wave of gentrification is a result of effective community-led developers who brought new mixed-income housing, supermarkets, and shopping malls to the neighborhood—which in turn brought a growing middle-class, and then upper-class, population. His point, essentially, is to debunk the idea that the gentrification of Harlem was solely imposed by outside developers and investors.
Goldstein makes a convincing argument to prove this—he traces the strength of these community organizations to ARCH, a radically innovative community developer founded in the mid-1960s, then details the proliferation of community development corporations (CDCs) in the following decades. It’s worth noting, however, that if these organizations are to be “blamed” for the gentrification of Harlem, they were founded in response to a city government with Robert Moses–like tendencies to bulldoze communities and replace them with “towers in the sky,” or to ignore the needs of the neighborhood altogether. Harlem always has been a radical neighborhood in that it has flourished even as the city government treated it with disregard—and it has hardly lost that energy today.
Goldstein, an architecture professor, is sure to point out cases of innovative and notable architecture and architectural practices, of which there are many. Not all are considered successes. In 1966, when the city opened Intermediate School 201, designed as a “showcase” for modernist architecture and curricular innovations, parents protested. As Goldstein explains, “Initially, the city had touted the intermediate schools as models of racial integration, but little in the initial planning of I.S. 201 in the early 1960s suggested that administrators were pursuing that objective with conviction.” The same year, at a vacant lot known as Reclamation Site #1, a proposal for a modernist state-office-building complex designed by the African American–led firm Ifill Johnson and Hanchard caused controversy. Local activists considered the block-long project a threat to Harlem’s identity, as well as their aspirations for community control—a flyer released in 1969 asked, “What’s to be built on Reclamation Site #1? Something for black people or a state office building for white people?” Both projects illustrate that architecture in Harlem has often gone beyond simple building design—the process has long engaged questions of race, inclusion, and community needs.
So it’s a welcome history lesson that the book highlights the work of J. Max Bond Jr., an architect and the first African American director of ARCH, who pushed forward a vision “of an alternative urban future centered on [Harlem residents’] daily lives.” Bond celebrated the “black aesthetic” in architecture, integrating the language of Black Power into ARCH’s work. It’s around this time that the concept of “activist architects and planners” took hold—professionals and amateurs who saw their work as deeply integrated with radical forms of participatory democracy. In that vein, Bond established a program in 1968 to help bring African American and Latino talent into the hardly diverse world of architecture.
The strength of ARCH highlights how things shift when community-centered organizations have agency over neighborhood development. Goldstein puts it this way: “[The] concern was with representation, with the resonance between those who made decisions about the shape of New York and those impacted by such decisions.… [It] was the idea that a designer’s race or ethnicity mattered, that people of color—whether professionals or amateur activists—were particularly attuned to the needs of neighborhoods like Harlem, and that they could thus uniquely plan their future.”
But as anyone familiar with the world of New York real estate knows, much development with public interest is the result of a number of compromises. Harlem’s community development corporations, for example, were still highly reliant on outside partners and city funds, often threatening activists’ dreams of local self-determination. With ample public funding, some CDCs were able to spur large-scale, profit-oriented projects along 125th Street, Harlem’s main drag, but the projects lacked the community engagement once prioritized. The arrival of these new projects also coincided with a rush of newcomers to New York, who pushed gentrification to its limit not only uptown but in Brooklyn and Queens.
But the practice of architecture and planning engaged with matters of race, equality, and empowerment persisted, and even offered a blueprint to other African American neighborhoods like West Oakland in California and Bronzeville in Chicago. In the conclusion of the book, Goldstein recounts a 2001 event in which J. Max Bond Jr., no longer with ARCH, asked, “In what image will Harlem be re-created?” It’s a question New Yorkers will never stop asking of their neighborhoods. But Goldstein illustrates well how Harlemites not only asked, but thoroughly engaged. Although the results were mixed, it’s impossible to deny how the neighborhood was radically shaped by the opinions, persistence, and ingenuity of the people who actually lived there.
The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem Brian D. Goldstein, Harvard University Press $39.95