Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Politics of Landmarks

Last year, there was a heated debate about the proposed building of an Islamic cultural center and mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero. You probably remember that it turned into a big brouhaha, fueled by loathsome Republican fear mongers who used it as a wedge issue in order to help them win the 2010 elections. (Amazingly, after the elections, their strident opposition to this project died out.) At issue was whether or not a very old building at this site should be razed or given landmark status which would have made it impossible to get this Islamic project built. 

In NYC, landmarking is about political and economic power.

Case in point are some buildings on the east side of Manhattan that currently have landmark status but that the owners are trying to get stripped so that they can demolish the buildings and put up luxury high rises. The current tenants of these buildings want to keep the landmark designation -- but not because they really care about the history of these buildings but because they don't want to use their homes. I remember several years ago that some developers wanted to tear down a building near my parents' place and my parents and the people in our building got involved and got this building land marked -- and the proposed construction (which would have killed the  sunlight and views from our apartments and thus their resale values) never took place.

Land marking is one of the only ways for otherwise regular people to curb the greed of big developers and to preserve our city's beauty and history.  But it's also a way, as the Ground Zero case or my parents' own situation or the current east side case shows, for people with other agendas to prevent construction that would directly impact them. 

As someone who loves this city and its history, I'm all for saving old buildings of interest. After all, would we want to tear down Fraunces Tavern or the Dakota? But as much as a sentimentalist as I am, I'm also a realist. Just because a building is old, doesn't make it historic or worth saving. Land marking should not be a political or economic tool. At the same time, once something is land marked, that designation should stand and people with other agendas shouldn't tinker.

When it comes to preserving the history of New York City, merit and not politics and money should rule the day. 

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, Mr.NYC. I like your attitude. I am the same way when it comes to buildings. Anyway...what are your thoughts on this?


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