Rally protests developers’ influence

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Hundreds assemble at City Hall, blaming developers and Mayor Bill de Blasio


  • About 300 people assembled at City Hall Saturday afternoon to call attention to the rate by which New York neighborhoods are being sacrificed to developers, often at the expense of longtime residents and small businesses. Photo: Spencer Lee

  • Saturday's Rally for our Neighborhoods at City Hall featured several speakers who railed at how quickly new developments are approved without sufficient input from residents. Photo: Spencer Lee


Defiance and frustration spoke loudly on the steps of City Hall Saturday afternoon, with some 300 people voicing displeasure at the speed by which New York neighborhoods are being sacrificed to developers.

The protesters directed much of their ire at Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Real Estate Board of New York, holding both responsible in equal measure for growing economic disparity in the city.

Nearly 70 community organizations signed on as sponsors of the event, Rally for our Neighborhoods, at which speakers and attendees alike railed at the pace of development, much of it approved, they said, at the expense of residents and small businesses.

“The evictions of New Yorkers, the destruction of affordable housing, the whitewashing of diverse communities of color — these are not natural changes. They are planned,” Jeremiah Moss, publisher of the blog “Vanishing New York,” said at the assembly.

“They are the products of public policy,” Moss continued. “We must demand a change in policy and demand a change in values. Endless growth is not a sustained ethical value. It is a cancer. Endless growth is not progress. It is the corporate model.”

Others at the rally echoed Moss’s sentiments, including Richard Moses of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative.

“Instead of upzoning neighborhoods in some kind of dystopian future, the city needs to respect existing community scale and context,” he said to loud approval.

Local politicians, several speakers said, were complicit in acquiescing to developers and the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).

“Our history, our memory of the history of this city — a public commons — sold off for less than its value. Our parks — a public commons — sold off for less than its value because of the money from REBNY,” said Michael White, a cofounder of Citizens Defending Libraries.

Sheila Lewandowski of the Long Island City Coalition said rapid development in her neighborhood have led to the dumping of raw sewage into the East River, subway overcrowding and increasingly scarce green space.

“We need the city to stop expecting developers to plan infrastructure. They’re not going to do it. We need planning that deserves our input,” she said.

Banners and signs — “I ? NY” among them – were prominent at the rally, which lasted a little more than an hour under overcast skies. Chants — “Whose city? Our city!” and “New York City - not for sale” — punctuated the event.

Lower Manhattan residents who oppose the plan for a new jail in Chinatown were a noticeable presence. The jail, which would accommodate 1,510 beds, would be built near a park in a busy residential and commercial area.

“No community should have 40 stories of cages and retail underneath. It is a savage concept,” said Jan Lee of the Chinatown Core Block Association, referring to the plan to convert city offices at 80 Centre St.

Lynn Ellsworth, of the Alliance for a Human-Scale City, which organized the event, urged people to stay involved, particularly by voting.

“This is a great opportunity. Let’s find candidates who pledge not to take money from real estate,” she said.

The battle against development, Ellsworth said, is a citywide issue. “No neighborhood can win alone,” she said.

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