Posts Tagged ‘NYC real estate development’

Going Greene—The Greene Street Project: A Long History of a Short Block

October 31, 2015

 

What can one block, a span of less than 500 feet of a New York City street, tell you? If you look closely enough, you can see 400 years of economic development. In a new website entitled, “Greene Street Project: A Long History of a Short Block,” (http://www.greenestreet.nyc/), William Easterly and Laura Freschi of NYU and Stephen Pennings of the World Bank have created an interactive timeline covering 400 years that charts the economic evolution of one NYC block, Greene Street between Houston and Prince, that reflects the broader evolution of the entire SoHo area from rural farmland to high-end retail hub, thus placing current day SoHo in the context of New York City’s history.

bayard

From the site: “By 1700, the block was part of the large Bayard farm. The farm stretched from what is now Chinatown to the southern part of Greenwich Village, around 200 acres.” (Thomas Howell, ‘Greenwhich Village painting,’ 1768. Via Greene Street Project)


In many ways, the objective of this site mirrors the mission of The SoHo Memory Project. The website preserves and shares the history of this one block, explaining how its communities evolve due to the changing economic forces that continue to drive growth in New York City today. NYU professor William Easterly, co-author of the paper and this companion website, explains in a recent article in Wired Magazine:

Most research on economic development takes a very broad view, focusing on a country or other relatively big region, Easterly says. Very few studies have tried to investigate how the fortunes of much smaller areas map onto broader trends.

Indeed, the timeline illustrates quite clearly how this block, once inhabited by half-free slaves from the Dutch colonial era, became British-owned farmland, a wealthy residential area, an entertainment district that included a red light district, a factory hub, a deserted area declared by some as obsolete, an artists community, and then the wealthy residential and commercial area that it is today.

Red markers show the locations of brothels in 1870 and 1880. (image: G.W. BROMLEY & CO. / DAVID RUMSEY COLLECTION)

Red markers show the locations of brothels in 1870 and 1880. (image: G.W. BROMLEY & CO. / DAVID RUMSEY COLLECTION)

Is it true that history repeats itself? Does this timeline hold clues to what is next for SoHo? Mega retailers have taken over Broadway as the popularity of online shopping continues to rise. What will happen once everyone is a half-free slave to Amazon Prime? Who will shop in SoHo? What will become of these vast commercial spaces? The answer to this question will surely affect what will become of its residential real estate as well.

Market value of the real estate on the Greene Street block, from 1830 to 2010. (image: WILLIAM EASTERLY, LAURA FRESCHI, AND STEVEN PENNINGS)

Market value of the real estate on the Greene Street block, from 1830 to 2010. (image: WILLIAM EASTERLY, LAURA FRESCHI, AND STEVEN PENNINGS)

Remember, SoHo as a residential neighborhood with a catchy name is only 50 years old, a long span in a person’s lifetime, but a blip in the lifetime of New York City. SoHo’s pioneers invented to concept of adaptive reuse by converting factories into homes and art galleries. But as long as time goes on, New York City will continue to change, and there is nothing anybody can do to stop it. That is not to say that we, as a community, cannot have a say in how it changes. SoHo pioneers proved that by fighting off Robert Moses and powerful real estate developers—and winning. What can we do to shape SoHo’s future?, Learning about its past will inform how we shape its future, and the Greene Street Project is a great place to start!

If You Don’t Build It, They Will Still Come

December 10, 2011

Charles L. Low with drawings and models of his proposed sports complex (photo: The New York Times)

Did you know that the second biggest development project never to happen in old SoHo, after LOMEX, was a proposed sports complex?  In 1972, the real estate developer Charles L. Low asked the City for a variance to build a 21-story public sports center at 311 West Broadway, just north of Canal Street.  The complex was to have 15 tennis courts, four ice skating rinks, a 6,000 square foot gym with running track, six squash courts, two handball courts, a 25-meter Olympic swimming pool, a whirlpool, sauna and exercise rooms, lockers and dressing rooms, lounges, health food bars, pro shops, a nursery, and self-service parking for 225 cars.  The complex was to mainly cater to the Wall Street crowd and other white-collar types who worked downtown.  In 1972?  In SoHo?

Needless to say, this plan caused some controversy.  And, as you can guess, the complex was never built.  But for a while, when the plan was still a possibility, it caused a huge divide in the SoHo community and its environs.

Many but not all artists who lived in SoHo were against the plan.  The most vocal opponent was the SoHo Artists’ Association, who argued that the complex would spoil the character of the neighborhood, that it would be an eyesore in a neighborhood that was made up of low-rise, 18th century buildings.  They also argued that the complex would bring in more people and automobiles to the neighborhood than it could support and it would also lead to higher rents in an area whose rents had already doubled in recent years due to escalating property values.

On the opposing side, community members, most of whom lived just west of West Broadway, most of whom were Italian-American, and most of whom were not artists but laborers and merchants, supported the plan, arguing that the complex would raise the profile of the neighborhood, bring much needed jobs to the area, and would provide a place for residents, especially children, to exercise (the students in the nearby Catholic school were promised free access to the facilities).  In addition, NYU supported the plan, as the complex would improve the quality of life of their faculty members who lived nearby.

Both sides had compelling arguments.  It was a bit of a surprise, though, when the complex was defeated.  As Donald Tricarico explains in his book, The Italians of Greenwich Village: The Social Structure and Transformation of an Ethnic Community:

The SAA was persuasive.  The planning board adopted its position and advised against the complex.  Italians were quite angry and taken off guard by the artists’ assertiveness in the matter.  The community broker felt that the sports center was “none of their business.”  He also felt betrayed.  He insisted that “if it wasn’t for the Italians, there wouldn’t be a SoHo.” (p. 130)

In hindsight, I suppose I am happy that the complex was never built.  One less aesthetically questionable behemoth building to look at.  Yet, all of the things that the SAA said would happen to the neighborhood if the complex was built happened anyway.  And pretty soon thereafter.  On the very same plot where the complex was supposed to be, we now have the SoHo Mews, a sprawling luxury condo complex where the likes of Oscar de la Renta own property, and across the street is the majestic SoHo Grand Hotel.  And neither the Mews nor the Grand serve the youth of the neighborhood (though I don’t 100% believe that the sports complex would have in the end, either—lesson learned from the whole Coles experience).  To the west of the Grand, we have the even more majestic Trump SoHo Hotel.  If the names “Trump” and “SoHo” can be found proudly emblazoned on a marquis, I think we can safely say that we have crossed the Rubicon.


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