Many neighborhoods in New York City have their local NIMBY civic groups, which believe that all development is bad and frequently use phrases like “preserving the low-rise character of the neighborhood” as arguments for resisting all development and all change. A group in and around the Bowery has such a petition now, which a friend forwarded to me, but I had to reply with my opposition.
While preserving a diverse, affordable district is valuable, a big reason housing is so expensive in NYC is that so many people want to live here but there isn’t enough housing and so developers only build huge luxury condos. We know that a million more people will be in NYC in the next 25 years, and each neighborhood in the city seems intent on trying to make sure those people live in some other neighborhood by saying that we need to preserve the “low-rise character” of that neighborhood or some other such thing.
If the people of the Upper West Side in 1898, when it was mostly small vacation homes and farmland, had lobbied to keep the “cottage character” of the neighborhood then we’d never have Manhattan as it is today. The Bowery is part of the densest county in the nation, and in a city that’s well suited to density - we have great public transit, most people don’t drive, and living in NYC is more energy efficient than living almost anywhere else in the US.
But the danger is that the middle class is being squeezed out by rising rents - especially in Manhattan where, according to the Times, the median income for white families with toddlers is $284,208! We should be making sure it’s not super expensive to live here, and I see no reason that the Bowery shouldn’t be a part of that growth.
We can ensure diversity and affordability not only by allowing some high density growth but also ensuring that the new apartments include many set aside for middle income and low income people. I’m strongly in support of such policies. But it really frustrates me when I see activists trying to stop any development altogether, especially in neighborhoods that are just blocks from central business districts.
If neighborhood groups poured all their energy into ensuring better affordable housing policies like Mitchell-Lama, I believe the situation could improve. Unfortunately, while many activists do support fixing the affordability crisis, I fear that many of the people who sign these petitions and support these groups are really not interested in making the city affordable for the middle class. They just want to keep everyone else out of “their” neighborhood.