Friday, August 8, 2008
As you know, there's a public hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Vanderbilt Hall at NYU's School of Law to discuss the 141-block rezoning of the East Village and Lower East Side.
Ramping up to that, the Daily News went on a walking tour of the neighborhood with Amanda Burden, who chairs the city planning commission and will lead Wednesday's meeting.
Here are a few excerpts from the article:
She looks at each neighborhood block by block, lot by lot. To her, the city is a jewel that needs constant care and safekeeping.
"Each neighborhood has its own personal DNA," says Burden, who had an immediate impact on the city when she took her position in 2002 by allowing restaurants, bars and cafes additional sidewalk space for outdoor dining. "It's my job to find it and save it."
To understand communities, Burden walks miles of city streets. Armed with a tape measure, sunglasses and comfortable yet stylish shoes (she is, after all, a former socialite), the planning commissioner eyes building heights, studies the flow of people and contemplates how an area's past relates to its present and future.
"It's my job to affect the process for the betterment of the people who live here, shop here and own businesses here," says Burden, pointing to the row of iron fire escapes that give a sculptural frame to the brown brick tenement buildings of the lower East Side.
"I picture myself part of the community. Here, there is a vibrant commercial and residential history. We want to keep ground-floor retail and ensure nothing can be built that will take away from the symmetry of these historic buildings. The magic here is in the density of people using these streets and living together."
"This wasn't here two weeks ago," Burden says, sneering at a vacant lot. "There was a building. Once you lose a building, you lose character and history. The Bloomberg administration is about growth and preservation. This is why we have to act fast to change the zoning, so developers aren't allowed to come in here and build whatever they chose. I don't mind a building that is in context with the others, meaning the same height with architectural guidelines, but small streets shouldn't have large development."
Orchard St. bustles on a Sunday afternoon. People shop, eat outside and ride bikes on narrow streets. Some construction sites show tall buildings made of concrete with no ground-floor retail.
"I'm biased toward skyscrapers," says Henry Brown, a physics student at City College who moved to the neighborhood from St. Louis. "I like them. I don't like ugly buildings. But even if they rezone, won't all these modern stores still look different than the old ones?"
"The essence of the East Village is tree-lined cool streets, small boutiques and community gardens," Burden says, walking along Avenue B toward Tompkins Square Park. "That's its DNA. Once you break it down to that fabric, you can act. Here, we want five- to seven-story buildings and small retail on the first and second floors. And we have to ensure these gardens stay put. No other community has this asset."