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City Limits Magazine-March 1981 Vol. 6 No. 3

City Limits Magazine-March 1981 Vol. 6 No. 3

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Published by: City Limits (New York) on Nov 29, 2011
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01/30/2012

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LI
.MARCH
1981
$1.50
VOL.6 NO.3
• Forty-Second
Street
SagaPension Dollars for Neighborhoods?'Shopsteading' 'Homesteading'
 
URBAN
VIETNAM
by
Howard B. Burchman
Vietnam is much
on
my mind these days. The waythings are going a new military adventure seems almostinevitable. The outburst
of
patriotism following thehostage release presaged more dramatic action
than
thetying
of
yellow ribbons. The bountiful billions beingpressed
on
the Pentagon create the momentum for conflict.Urban Vietnam does
not
speak
to
military action,however. It speaks
to
the attitude
of
arrogance characterized by-one
of
the more harrowiQg expressions
to
come
out
of
the war:
"We
had
to
destroy the village
in
order
to
save it."
The
extent
to
which that attitude has characterized
our urban
policy is remarkable. What was
Urban
Renewal other
than
a "strategic
hamlet"
approach applied
to
urban cores. Urban Renewal hated the areas italleged
to
be renewing; it loved the money
to
be madefrom it. More
than
the cities, it hated the people livingin them. Just so with Vietnam. Cities were destroyedbecause they were
in
the way
of
being saved.What is behind the popularity
of
destruction andrevamping? First, the opportunity
to
make big money.Second, simplicity.Destruction allows inconvenientrealities
to
be rooted
out
rather
than
acknowledged andresponded to. Third, egotism. The process is egotismwrit large: the obliteration
of
another creation for theconvenience
of
asserting one's own personal vision.Despite the disappearance
of
Urban
Renewal as aprogram, the underlying attitude and motivation remain. Given the chance, some federal financing, ablurry image transported from somewhere else and it resurfaces. Now it calls itself urban revitalization, thefederal mechanism is UDAG, and the blurry images arethe South Street Seaport and the
Portman
Hotel. Thesimilarity between these projects is astonishing. Bothrepresent the wholesale importation
of
concepts fromaltogether different
urban
settings. Both will radicallyalter neighborhoods already experiencing their ownmomentum
of
change. Both greedily demand
an
unnecessary federal subsidy.The
Portman
Hotel
is
clearly the
"Westway"
of
UDAGs. Has anyone ever wondered how such unnecessarily disruptive schemes manage
to
get so far?
How
cana so-called Times Square revitalization destroy threetheatres when theatre is the very thing that should bepreserved
and
enhanced in that area? Recent experienceshould have more
than
sufficiently demonstrated
that
theatres cannot
just
be built. The new ones tend
to
be
CITY
LIMITS/March
1981
2
vast barns, hated by audiences and performers, andloved by producers who fantasize mind boggling grossesin them. The tawdry hotel planned by
Portman
with itsflashing lights is nothing
but
a cheap conceit seeking
to
dominate rather than contribute to the area.And why are boutiques the only means that have beendiscovered
to
restore historic areas,
or
ariy other areasfor that matter? Rouse's boutiquery by the Bay joins
not
only his two other identical ventures
but
also suchplaces as Convent Garden in London, Les Halles inParis, and practically every revitalization planned forevery city.
In
place
of
indigenous quality
we
get theinternationalism
of
high price consumption.
It
makesno difference whether the location be New York Bay
or
Boston Harbor,
or
the central markets
of
Europeancities,
we
have found a new equality in high price goods.Probably the most upsetting quality
of
both
Portman
and Rouse is their total lack
of
local identity, their totalunresponsiveness
to
what
is
New York. There is nothing
that
roots these developments
to
the locations chosenfor them -indeed, in their own ways they seek
to
destroy what
is
already there. In the most stimulating
of
urban environments
we
get cookie cutter development;here's
our
local Rouse Boutique and
Portman
Hotel.The level
of
creative enterprise manifested in these projects
is
the equivalent
of
that
involved in deciding
to
open a McDonalds on 14th Street. What better argument for the dumping
of
UDAG
than these twoprojects? 0
Howard Burchman consults on neighborhood-basedhousing and community development projects.
 
l
'*
l'
~
(
EDITORIAL
LIMITS
HPD Housing Starts Increase,But
Who
Benefits
And
WhoCares?
In
what has become
an
annual bit
of
fanfare, aCity Hall press release dated January
28,
1981,loudlyproclaimedyet another banner year for HPD underMayor Koch's administration. A combined total of
21,776
dwellings units in new construction andrehabilitation were started in calendar year
1980.
This record was surpassed only by the rate
of
new
1981
press releases which
had
reached
27
by January 28th. All the daily papers picked up the story, asthey did last year and the year before. But they failed
to
ask one basic question -who benefits fromthese figures? Had they asked,
it
would
have
beendiscovered the city has no answer.
In
spite
of
some sleight
of
hand in HPD's arithme
tic
-last year's press release cited only
9,401
rehab,units in
1979,
but this number somehow grew
to
10,242
units in the interim -the
1980
level
of
HPD
productivity is impressive. Regardless
of
what onethinks
of
HPD's politics, the rehabilitation of
16,137
units
of
housing is no mean feat.Whether this achievement will stand up undercloser scrutiny, however, is another question. Virtually all
of
the housing rehabilitation initiated by thecityin
1980
is being funded in whole or in part byfederal Community Development funds. A paramount requirement
of
the
CD
program is that apartments rehabbed with
CD
funds
be
occupied by lowand moderate income families. Ironically,
HPD,
which has managed to overcome all the logisticalproblems
of
producing this housing, has not beenable to keep track
of
who lives there. That is, the City
of
New
York
proudly spent
$123
million on HPD projects last year,
but
has no idea who is living in theseprojects. The city claims that 8A and Participationloans are benefitting low and moderate income people, but in no way can document this benefit. Giventhe record
of
the city in slighting low income neighborhoods and projects, we can hardly be expected
to
take the city's word on this issue.Although it never made it
to
the pages
of
the dailypapers, the City Comptroller's own audit of the 8A
3
loan program highlighted this problem
an'd
characterized HPD claims
of
benefit as"manifestlyillogical:' The Comptroller went
on
to
say that HPD's criteria for documenting benefit"don'teven begin
to
meet
HUD
requirements:'It is also worthy of note that those programswhich do directly serve low and moderate incomepeople, such as sweat equity,
have
been slashedand contribute few figures to the Mayor's total.For some reason, when the Mayor sends out apress release
on
housing statistics, his figures arebroadcast and printed virtually verbatim. Whateverhappened to the idea that there is value
in
a healthytension between government and the press? Thismay
be
the only news vehicle you will
read
that willtell you not only what the Mayor's press releasesaid, but also, perhaps more importantly, what
it
didn't say -
0
CITY
LIMITS/March
1981

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