A hit has been ordered against the skyline of New York City. This new plan of Mayor Bloomberg's for taking down older office buildings in the Empire State building area and putting up colossal replacement buildings to attract more CEOs to the city, is a nightmare of vandalism in the name of progress.
It will allow enormous structures to dwarf our iconic skyscrapers, which will no longer scrape the sky but huddle in the shadows of some glass and brass atrocities. It appalls me that the few churches in the area want to go along with it in order to get new money for their air rights. It will undoubtedly destroy NYC, as we know it, and make it more and more uninhabitable for those who live here despite the crowds, the noise, and the expense -- those like myself who were born here -- and those who chose to make their lives here -- people for whom "I love New York" is not a slogan but as an everyday reality.
This mayor wants smaller soft drinks and larger buildings -- what an irony! It is the plan of a man who fails to understand and appreciate the cultural history of New York City, and what these new buildings will do to the lives of office workers and their nearby residents. Life in mid-town stretching to the Upper East Side will have a far greater density; and more stress on a infrastructure that can barely support what exists today. I propose that the mayor wait with me for a bus along Lexington Avenue -- a nice long wait in heat, cold and rain and then judge if the city needs more office buildings. Perhaps then he will have an understanding of a need for slower growth. A great city like New York is not a shark, it does not need to keep moving or die: sometimes a quiet, deliberate, measured pace for growth is what is required for survival.
Under this mayor we have seen the destruction of much that was old brownstone Yorkville, neighborhood housing for long term neighborhood workers, replaced by ugly, expensive high rise residences -- with no thought to adding new schools or amenities for the new residents. Each of them violate the golden mean -- the scale at which human beings feel most human and comfortable. The classical golden mean was derived by the ancient Greeks and was used by them in the design of their buildings and monuments. They could create a feeling of natural order, as well as structural integrity in their works, by respecting the all important human scale.
This human scale is ignored by builders and architects whose main interest is to squeeze the last dollar out of whatever space they have to build in -- meaning higher and higher buildings that no longer take a breath to rest as the staggered terraced levels of the old skyscrapers did before they soar upwards, but are built as huge blocks of steel and glass, blocks that do not allow the eye to rest, or the sky to shine through at various levels.
We have seen the horrors of Donald Trump's NYC developments defacing the West Side with his architectural graffiti; all those buildings that look like East post reunification Berlin housing from the West Side Highway. I suggest that a new birther movement is in order for Mr. Trump because no native New Yorker -- something he claims to be -- would so wantonly deface his own city in this way. Clearly, he was born in some strange South American place like Brazila, a modern concoction of a city that has no roots in time or history -- where nobody lives but everyone works. Or else, he was possibly born somewhere in East Berlin. Well, as one who has been in Berlin a decade ago after the wall came down, I saw the new city that was being built in the former communist sector, a jumble of jagged glass modernity, one architectural behemoth engaged in hand to hand battle with another, but it still looked far better then Trump's brass as class. I won't even go into what is being done to the Brooklyn waterfront in the name of progress.
Without getting into a class war I must say that all these changes are approved of by many of the people in the upper levels of city government who weekend in the Hamptons or Connecticut -- or, as in the mayor's case, a man with a bevy of vacation homes for his weekend and holiday getaways so that the impact of this demolition derby falls upon those of us who live in the city 24/7. We have already seen the desecration of the old, charming Greenwich Village by the ever expanding NYU -- which has replaced its marvelous neighborhood diversity with a sprawling college campus of students who have no roots in the community -- and the same is now about to happen in Harlem thanks to Columbia's expansion.
I wish there was today another urban defender like the late Jane Jacobs who could speak out with the authority of an architectural historian -- which I am definitely not -- or even a Jackie Kennedy who rallied the troops against the expansion of that church that wanted to sell its air rights. The New York Times is of little help here. Yes, they report the stories of the plans for desecration, but their architectural critics more often than not bless such vandalism as the changes to the Museum of Modern Art that created an interior where it was easier to see fellow museumgoers than the actual paintings on the wall. I would hope that the protest would come soon from the young people who love the city that they live and work in, and that they can turn protest into protection of the great architectural treasure we still have. Imagine the city of Pisa in Italy with its leaning tower hemmed in by massive office buildings. Our skyscrapers are no less valuable to us in New York, and far more jeopardized.
I do want the city to prosper, we need new jobs but not at the expense of its quality of life for long time residents. Basically, there seems to be no common sense planning, permits are issued to anyone who can say they are hiring new workers -- such as the produce provider Fresh Direct which has been a bane to the neighborhoods it uses as a distribution point -- adding great pollution to residential areas with its ever running refrigerator trucks. A sick friend of mine, a longtime resident of East Eighth Street tells me that tour buses are allowed to pass by her second floor window by the dozens hourly without relief to the residents who have to endure the exhaust fumes, the noise, and the filth that enters through open windows. You might well say that nobody forees us to live in New York, but that is far from true. Love -- alas -- forces us to be where our heart is. Corny? Sure. True? Absolutely.
I will wait for the response of Christine Quinn who has this building proposal up for review -- to see if she is going to cave in for this destruction of the Grand Central area as she did to the mayor's demand for a third term -- or whether she has enough character to be our next mayor. Until then, will somebody try to save the sky for our iconic skyscrapers -- because the Empire State, the Chrysler Building, and other marvels of the great, heroic age of the skyscraper are works of art that need their background of light, clouds, and sky. Icons are icons not only in themselves but also in their settings. We all bemoan the loss of the magnificent Pennsylvania Railway terminal -- it is the symbol of a city that turned its back on its past and lost a treasure in doing so. Most of all these architectural icons -- as much as the Statue of Liberty continue to act as the beacon for all those who want to experience the joy of a visit to this city or a life lived in it. Help! Let's stand up and be counted to protect the integrity of our treasures.