Livable Streets as Class War?

social control?

social control?

Streetsblog posted its own call to action about today’s hearing on remodeling Chatham Square which, when read in the context of CCRC’s much more detailed analysis, just seems a little flimsy, and flippant at that – Streetsblog groups local response under generic ‘opposition’, and pushes for the present plan as handed down by NYC DoT and friends, despite the fact that the main opposition seems to be from folks who don’t oppose the project, but rather oppose doing it NOW.

This case, and the recent rise of anti-bike lane activism in Brooklyn reveals how certain ‘green’ policies can work as a kind of class warfare, with the New Urbanist trend being only the latest of many architectural salvos for the city delivered from on-high by city administrators to the unwashed/ignorant residents, unable to see the social benefits of a overhaul of their street life.  Honestly, I’m not even totally convinced of the utility of green streets – transportation is a sizable but not immense part of CO2 emissions, and the green-streets improvements feel increasingly like a form of social control purpetuated by New York’s ascendent young, mobile and wealthy urban class with its ‘green’ mores (notably different from a serious environmentalism).

Not to say that ‘livable streets’ policies won’t work, but rather to say that they’ll work better if done in collaboration with the residents of those streets.  Instead of putting out calls for ‘advocates’ to descend on hearings to support “green here, green now.”


2 responses to “Livable Streets as Class War?

  1. You are exactly right. The primary opposition to the DOT plan centers around its timing. No one can understand why there is such urgency to STARTING the Chatham Square reconfiguration so soon. Few argue that the current Chatham Square configuration is less than ideal. But the construction will be extremely disruptive and its effects on the survival of businesses (already compromised by NYPD actions along and around Park Row) have not been properly analyzed. As such, there needs to be a concrete statement of cost/benefit for this project.

    Instead, the DOT has chosen to SELL the plan on its pedestrian safety (and green-ness) – again with no data or analysis to support the claim that the current configuration is particularly dangerous or that the proposed configuration is particularly safe. In fact, there is at least one heavily used crosswalk that is eliminated in the proposed configuration that would force school children to cross 2 streets AND increase the amount of time they spend crossing streets. Common sense says that this compromises the safety of these children. On the other hand, the DOT continues to ignore Canal Street, which is only a few blocks north and long acknowledged to be one of the most dangerous pedestrian crossings in New York City. Recently, between Canal Street and Chatham Square on the Bowery, the DOT has installed a couple of pedestrian crossing islands to improve safety. A few well-placed islands in Chatham Square would improve safety w/o the disruption (or cost) of a major reconstruction.

    There is also reason to believe that the reconfiguration will actually increase congestion through the area. Particularly worrisome are the routes that trucks and MTA buses take up/down the Bowery/Park Row corridor. A simple visualization of those routes as they traverse the proposed new Chatham Square will identify obvious problem spots. Interestingly, the DOT traffic consultant chose to ignore these effects in their simulation of traffic through the new configuration. Remember that the current configuration is the result of a DOT reconfiguration completed as recently as 1999 – with the promise of improved flow. The DOT does not have a good track record here – not because they are not smart but because they do not understand how the streets are used. There are alternatives to the proposed reconfiguration that potentially avoids these pitfalls – if only someone would listen.

    The odd thing about all of this is that there is another portion of the project that the DOT has provided little visibility into – the construction of a Park Row pedestrian walkway that would link Chinatown to Police Plaza and points south. This is slated for after the Chatham Square reconfiguration. But if the walkway were scheduled and completed before the reconfiguration, then improved pedestrian flow could be a mitigating factor against loss of foot traffic during reconstruction. And it gives time for the economy to improve – which would provide a more robust environment for businesses to survive during the reconfiguration work.

    And regarding green-ness, there is a small park not far from Chatham Square located south on St. James Place and Pearl Street. It was taken over by the NYPD for parking after 9/11. It took a lawsuit by members of the Civic Center Residents Coalition to wrest that park away from the NYPD. If the City and “green advocates” are sincere about green-ness, that park is a great place to start.

  2. Madame, I'm Chatham

    I live within a block of Chatham and I agree with your perception here. In this recession, this is a terrible time to start 3 years of construction because without doubt Chinatown would lose business(es) permanently. I would emphasize that the Civic Center Residents Coalition (CCRC) feels that the DOT and related agencies have NOT done proper outreach to the community, which is another main reason why this Chatham Square reconfiguration should not start at this time. This fact was brought out in the “public hearing” in Chinatown last week and Councilman Alan Gerson and Speaker Sheldon Silver agreed.

    Seven years of Park Row Closure and Parking Placard Abuse have taken its toll on Chinatown – and these conditions still exist now – adding 3 more years of economic strain with construction during this recession would …. Well, you get the picture.

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