To The Editor (Queens Gazette):
New York's rich past is clearly visible in its physical structures and neighborhoods. Growing up in New York, I appreciated the old buildings and felt a sense of continuity among them. As an adult, I learned about buildings and neighborhoods that no longer existed due to poorly planned developments, buildings such as the old Madison Square Garden and neighborhoods such as Radio Row. Yet I heard about successes, like the preservation of Grand Central Station. I saw other success stories in such places as South Street Seaport and the hundreds of old buildings and neighborhoods that formed the colorful tapestry of my city, a place that truly felt like the center of the world. I figured the city had learned from its mistakes.
But these days, New York is being looted. Recently, I have been shocked by a pattern of aggressive development that seems to be targeting old buildings and neighborhood centers with no apparent regard for their historical importance. While most New Yorkers I know share this impression, the people charged with protecting our cultural heritage and history do not seem to be as concerned. This destruction is taking place throughout the city. In particular, I have seen it in the destruction of the heart of the Yorkville neighborhood, the apparent targeting of Spanish Harlem, recent discussions about destroying the South Street Seaport to make way for a shopping mall, the planned destruction of Atlantic Yards and the project of the largest scale, the planned destruction of Yankee Stadium. This wave of destruction is akin to the type of cultural cleansing one might find in a vindictive war between rival ethnic groups.
To most New Yorkers, these places are landmarks. Yet the Landmarks and Preservation Commission seems to be hung up on highly technical definitions of what constitutes a landmark, and therefore, what merits preservation.
History and culture are important to who we are as a people. Does this really need to be rehashed? Do we really need to reinvent the wheel every time something of historic value is threatened, or can we place the burden on the developer? Why not make a rule that anything older than 75 years or that meets certain criteria, such as, say, the site of multiple papal visits, important concerts, national championships, something that is so close to the heart of all New Yorkers, be preserved unless the developer can prove why it should not be, and how the proposed project is better for the city?
This would slow development, it's true. Right now, that would be a good thing. Development at its current pace threatens to erase the city's character in the very near future.
Ultimately, we need to strike a balance between private and public interest. Right now, short-sighted developers are routing the city's cultural and historical legacy to make a quick buck. This serves no one's interests in the long term.
That buildings of such importance to our city's culture, to its neighborhoods, can be destroyed without a serious public debate is a sad state of affairs. These are irrevocable decisions that should not be made lightly. Yet they are being made every day without taking the city's will into account. And so, the city's face is being changed for the worse without thought.
The danger is that the city will so change that it will lose its unique character. New York is both a quintessentially American and global city, perhaps the premier American and global city. It is a treasure to the world. Before we allow this place to be looted any more for greed, we should take stock of what is going on.
Square one should be a concerted effort to stop the proposed destruction of Yankee Stadium. Most New Yorkers oppose destroying the stadium. There is no good justification for doing away with a building of such profound meaning to most New Yorkers.
Name withheld on request
New York, N.Y.
Editor's Note: The writer's remarks also apply to many neighborhoods and local landmarks in Queens.
Crappy's Note: This paper loves it when Astoria's landmarks are torn down to make way for "affordable" housing or other similar projects.