Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Would you like to buy this extra street?

The NYT has a story about something that I didn't even know happened: New York City selling one of its streets. The street in question is called Extra Place, extending out of First Street northwards in Lower Manhattan, but not quite reaching Second Street (i.e., it's a dead end). More accurately described as a grungy alleyway, it is a rare piece of not-yet-gentrified property in Manhattan, and it's adjacent to some luxury apartment buildings on First Street. These are owned by the developer Avalon Bay, who wants to buy the street, repave it, and "create a cleaner passageway to the shops and boutiques that are expected to open in the new buildings." They always want to "install seats, including some to be used by a cafe to which the developer expects to lease space." The city would earn money from the sale, would not have to incur any further costs with regards to maintaining the street, and would contribute to the density of Manhattan (one of its main selling points, and something that's good from both a planning, ecological, and cost-of-living perspective). Not bad for a god-forsaken strip that hasn't changed much since it was featured on the cover of a Ramones album. Of course, some residents in the vicinity are against the plan:

“There’s very little city-owned space left, and we would like the city to continue to own Extra Place,” she said. “There could be proposals to fix it up and manage it, which could be done by Avalon, but we also want to guarantee public access.”

As for the first objection – that the site ought to stay in the city's custody because "there's very little city-owned space left," what the hell is the benefit of city-owned space? Especially if it's left in the condition that it's in. As for the second part – that "there could be proposals to fix it up and manage it" – there could be, but isn't it interesting that there haven't been yet? And look, here is a proposal! And the last objection – to "guarantee public access" – is similarly stupid. Street-level property is very valuable as commercial real estate, which has to be open to the public to be profitable. I guess you could argue that those "seats" that the developers want to build are only going to be open to paying customers (although, if you look at the Starbucks model of outdoor seating or other models, we see that there's usually no one going around making sure those sitting are actually customers), but as it stands now, there are no seats for anyone to use. And I understand that it's sort of a straw man argument since, as this objector said, there "could" be plans to rehabilitate the space and keep it public, but like I said earlier, it hasn't happened yet.

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