Unmasked

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of Quilas that I’ve been wary of No 7‑Eleven NYC from the beginning, but it’s starting to spread to those who may have been followers until now. On February 28, EV Grieve wrote:

evg-bowery-poetry-story

One of the comments to the above-mentioned post:

evg-comment-re-bob-holman-0301

Bob Holman is one of the founders, if not the founder, of No 7‑Eleven NYC.

A search for Bowery Alliance of Neighbors yields:

invite200res.55174433_std

There’s no question that this area has an important history, but there isn’t a single aspect of that history left. Nothing of the past is being preserved, nor would any of them want to preserve it. In fact, they’re not preserving anything, as you’ll soon see. What they’re doing is creating the Bowery Theme Park.

[T]his project will enable the Chinatown, Little Italy, Lower East Side,
and now, the Bowery communities to develop a comprehensive approach
to community planning, centered around history, culture, and
economic development.

Take a look at what National Register designation confers:

Eligibility of property owners (and in certain cases lessees) for federal tax credits on qualifying rehabilitation of historic buildings within the historic district. Owners of depreciable, certified historic properties may take a 20 percent federal income tax credit for the costs of substantial rehabilitation as provided for under the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Any contributing, income-producing building would be eligible for the federal investment tax credit.

Owners of contributing buildings within distressed census tracts are eligible for additional New York State tax credits. Distressed census tracts are those identified as being at or below 100% of the state median family income ($51,691) in the most recent census. On the Bowery, this includes properties on the east side of the street south of East 3rd Street and on the west side south of East Houston Street. …

Private property owners of contributing buildings are eligible for grants and loans administered by New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and other sources

Municipal and not-for-profit owners of listed historic properties may apply for matching state historic preservation grants

Registered properties and properties determined eligible for the Register receive a measure of protection from the effects of federal and/or state agency sponsored, licensed or assisted projects through a notice, review, and consultation process.

What it doesn’t provide is any real protection:

National Register status is an honorific designation. Unlike New York City Landmarks designation, which is not being sought as a part of this effort, there are no restrictions placed on private owners of registered properties in a National Register Historic District. Private property owners may sell, alter or dispose of their property as they wish, although an owner who demolishes a certified registered property may not deduct the costs of demolition from his/her federal income tax.

So that’s what they’ll be gathering to celebrate on the 20th: a host of tax credits and deductions for building- and land-owners.

Democratic control over neighborhoods is not an impossibility. The residents of this area could band together as well. Of course, they wouldn’t have the backing of the city government, or celebrities, or the banks lining up to fund this “preservation”, but they can provide a necessary counter-balance to the gentrification effort.

By way of example, the Clinton Special District Coalition was formed to protect the people who lived in the Clinton Special District (located on the West Side between 41st and 59th Street, from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River). The CSDC fights for social and economic justice, for the rights of poor, low-income and working individuals and families, with a primary focus on strengthening and preserving affordable housing.

The organizers of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors would run screaming if such an initiative were proposed!

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rob h
    Mar 07, 2013 @ 05:25:22

    Some hyperbole here, quilas. BAN members are mostly old, long-time residents on or around the Bowery who would very much welcome the return of the historic skid Bowery — that’s what they came to the Bowery for. (Probably they’d also welcome, in a Miniver Cheevy way, the 19th cen entertainment distrcit as well, though not in the New Museum form threatening today.) Those tax credits are designated for hsitoric buildings and their preservation, not for new hotels or condo developments (you know this!).

    I can’t speak for BAN — I’m not a member — but it’s my understanding (I know them pretty well) that BAN is trying to prevent further gentrification on the Bowery by preventing overdevelopment. Hisotric preservation does not gentrify nearly as quickly or regularly as ‘over’development, and the city has targeted the Bowery for development. The hotels, despite the jobs they will create, will raise real estate values, and drive out what is left of Bowery history, the lighting and restaurant supply stores (you know this!).

    To claim that BAN would run screaming from the Clinton Coalition mission is unfounded and unfair. I bet you that they’d all support it, enthusiastically. The Historic Registration was assisted by Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, responsible for a lot of affordable housing downtown and a close ally of Chinese and Latino immigrant labor.

    So, while I don’t find that BAN is exclusively a social justice org by any means — they are interested in building preservation, which is usually orthogonal to social justice, but sometimes overlapping and sometimes complementary and sometimes contrary — they are not trying to create a theme park. The flyers’ graphics are just their tacky way of trying to resonate with a less familiar history. I’d prefer images from Rogosin’s 1957 — more consonant with Bob Holman’s sensibility — except the slumming hipsters would applaud. Can’t win.

    Reply

    • shmnyc
      Mar 08, 2013 @ 13:36:44

      Rob,

      Gentrification isn’t just about taller buildings. The Clinton Special District also limited the height of buildings within its periphery, but they went further in protecting tenants. Designating this area as an historic district will not stop the destruction of buildings, nor protect tenants. It’s a cash cow for those who want to avail themselves of it. No doubt many will.

      The Society Hill neighborhood in Philadelphia was gentrified without the addition of taller buildings, as were Prague and Budapest.

      I see you have cuny in your email address. Are you familiar with Neil Smith’s book “The New Urban Frontier”? I’m borrowing heavily from it in my current postings on gentrification. Also, my name is not Quilas. That’s just the blog’s name.

      Reply

  2. rob hollander
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 03:33:02

    First, I am truly pleased to be in direct interface with someone whose comments are both stimulating and challenging. I am sympathetic — I use that word with full purpose — with many of your concerns, more sympathetic than you may suspect. If we talk sometime I’d like to expand on it. And I know your name is not Quilas (you give an explanation somewhere here), just as I assume ‘shm’ are at best initials. But I like ‘Quilas.’

    No need to go so far as Prague. Greenwich Village or Brooklyn Heights will do.

    The historic registration is a standard step towards historic district, which is a city landmarking and does prohibit demolition and which is a BAN goal. I understand the inclination to deduce from actions to motives — I’m deductively inclined myself — but it really is important to have all the context. Taking consequences as rational is sort of a Hegelianism that even Smith seems to court. It’s not that devalorization causes gentrification. Accumulation is a force that will take all opportunities to gentrify. But to describe both white filght and white non flight as causing gentrification is either to reduce “gentrification” or “causing” to meaninglessness or to maintain an inconsistency in the theory rendering the theory itself meaningless.

    I don’t want to defend BAN too much. Let it suffice that their plan is twofold: to extend the SLID from the west side of the Bowery (80′ height caps) to the east side where there are currently no caps; a historic district or failing that, individual landmarkings. Their goal is to prevent new construction, especially out-of-scale construction, and preserve the current context. These are naive goals, but there isn’t anything more to it. If this were the Tenement Museum, I’d believe it was intended as a theme park. But these folks are just “gentle people of Gotham.”

    I haven’t read Smith’s book, but I did give him and several of his grad students a zoning/gentrification/historical tour in and around Houston Street during the rezoning process several years ago (when I was nearly alone predicting the conequences of that rezoning all of which are being realized now). I ended up in one his students’ dissertations with the pseudonym “Virgil.” I haven’t taught at CUNY for nearly ten years, but that email address was so widely known within CUNY that I’ve been reluctant to give it up. I still look at it regularly, so feel free…

    Now I have to go reply to you on Grieve. I intended to communicate with you weeks ago, and should have, and wish I had.

    Reply

    • shmnyc
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 10:14:38

      I am going to combine my response to you from EVGrieve with this one, as this winds down. When I post on the gentrification of the Society Hill neighborhood in Philadelphia, I’m sure I’ll make comparisons to what’s happening on the Bowery, so this may come up again.

      I did not say that “both white flight and white non flight” cause gentrification. White flight did not fuel gentrification in the LES, nor central Harlem, nor cities in Europe. Flight itself is a response to deteriorating conditions, not a cause, although it speeds up the decline after a while. And while devalorization of housing stock does not itself cause gentrification, it is a necessary prerequisite. Gentrification refers to the revalorization of the housing stock, for the benefit of a wealthier clientele. It’s unfortunate that that’s the word that’s used to describe this process, since it focusses on the last step, and implies White beneficiaries (cf. central Harlem).

      (On Grieve you wrote “White flight will prevent it entirely”. At first I thought I knew what you were saying, but now I realize I have no idea. Maybe you can explain?)

      Reply

  3. rob hollander
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 12:35:08

    There may be many causes of white flight — the availability of house ownership in the suburbs, a culture of house ownership or suburbanism, the improvement of a condition elsewhere (rather than a deterioration of the urban space), new infrastructure that facilitates suburbanism, racism (take a look at SoHo fears of spreading Chinatown — it’s not about declining value, it’s pure “racial preference,” to put it kindly).

    Neighborhoods can gentrify without devalorization. Greewich Village has gentrified without any period of significant decline. Turtle Bay, Brooklyn Heights, even Stuy Town and Grand Street have all been gentrified. I prefer talking about upscaling than gentrifiying. The introduction of students and transient singles into the EV — and it’s not just proximity that does it, it’s the housing stock itself — really shouldn’t be described as “gentrification” but certainly is well described by “upscaling.” Turning a neighborhood into a nightlife district, for example, might be an upscaling, but hardly a gentrifying without doing violence to the language.

    I use “gentrification,” but only for convenience.

    Reply

    • shmnyc
      Mar 10, 2013 @ 18:23:40

      Rob, Gentrification is an historically-specific phenomenon of post-war cities of the advanced capitalist world. Efforts have existed from the beginning to either change the word or the definition, but both must be resisted if its race and class politics are not to be blunted. That is a dis-service to the victims of gentrification. You are free to discuss any other phenomenon that is like gentrification, but I may not join you.

      Reply

  4. joe
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 14:09:02

    Enjoying this exchange immensely. I did have a question whether the National Registry might be a stepping stone to gaining full historic district status. Thanks for addressing that, Rob! Interesting to make a distinction between gentrification of devalorized spaces as opposed to gentrification (upscaling) of areas that have not fallen into steep decline. Here in Brooklyn I think of Red Hook, Bed Stuy and Bushwick in the former category, Sunset Park, Kensington, & Ditmas Park in the latter. Clearly it’s important to think about how large scale processes play out in local spaces — spaces that are varied in composition and character at the outset — recreating the city in ways that give rise to new inequalities (and a new geography of inequality) but which are not reducible to a single process of cultural homogenization (a theme taken up by No 7-Eleven). At the end of several decades of gentrification NYC finds itself both more economically unequal and more racially and ethnically and culturally diverse than before ‘gentrification’ began.

    Reply

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