SoHo So What
By: Joel Epstein
Why are we even having this discussion? Are there really no more pressing land use and planning issues in this City? With Covid still raging and Stephen Ross getting ready to ask the City for a multi-billion dollar bailout for his private “eden” on the Hudson, is rezoning SoHo what we should be talking about?
We can all agree that inequality and segregation are bad. Still, the fight over affordable housing in SoHo is a classic case of the City once again cutting off its nose to spite its face. Yes, the long-ago affordable lair of artists and musicians is now home to lots of wealthy people. So what? It’s also a landmark neighborhood that should be preserved for its architectural heritage and historical significance to a city that is quickly forgetting who she, he and they is. With dozens, if not hundreds, of office buildings gasping for breath as residential conversions, do we really need to spoil another neighborhood in the name of so-called equity. All the more so when it’s a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a National Historic Landmark featuring cast-iron architectural elements no one builds with anymore.
SoHo is not a particularly well-served transit-oriented community. Yes, there are subway stations, bus stops and plentiful Citibike docks, but not when compared with large swathes of midtown and FiDi that stand largely empty due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The subway stations that serve SoHo are by and large small, narrow platform affairs lacking elevators that would make them ADA accessible. SoHo is also a park-poor community constantly congested with bridge and tunnel commuters and tourists fouling the air with their private cars. This contributes to childhood asthma and other illnesses that advocates presumably don’t want to be the legacy they leave the affordable housing residents they claim to serve. How about affordable grocery shopping? Fuggedaboutit, unless you want to schlep to Chinatown. How about neighborhood schools?
The City’s political leaders, well-meaning City officials and affordable housing advocates are so busy falling over themselves to show how woke they are that they are again ready to sacrifice one of New York’s landmark communities to the cause of what? So what!
If hating on rich people is your thing, you are in luck. There are still plenty of them here when they are not staying in their homes in London and Montecito and Southampton. Maybe if you are lucky you can spot them shopping for $500 sneakers at Hudson Yards or on Billionaire’s Row or the Upper East Side. Or maybe you can curse them under your mask in once affordable enclaves like the Lower East Side and downtown Brooklyn and the Flatiron District.
There is work to be done to make New York a more equitable and livable city. Let’s keep our focus on what matters, not the fact that some empty nester from Upper Saddle River just bought a multi-million dollar loft on Spring Street that was once owned by an artist.
Yours in transit,
Joel Epstein is a New Yorker and an advocate for public transit, livable cities and public space.
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