Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Villager "Put skids on Bowery change"

To The Editor:
Re “As high-rises sprout, feeling down and out on Bowery” (news article, Sept. 26):

The Bowery’s unique and vibrant character has existed for a long time. There were gradual evolutions and wholesale removals in its history. Among the wholesale removals was an African burial ground which existed on the Bowery until the graves were forcibly exhumed to make room for white development.

We see much of the same ethos driving the current profit-fueled frenzy to build large here. As we have made way for high-rent buildings and a pallid version of contemporary, we have lost some of our most interesting institutions, sights and irreplaceable community members:

The last Bowery dancehall, Kate Millett, many S.R.O.s, a low skyline, CBGB, the chance for archeological discovery as the New Museum is built atop the African burial ground, etc.

City planning — the right of a city to plan itself — preserves what is working, husbands a community’s resources and then proposes what might be needed or wanted. It does not wait as a neighborhood is dismantled bit by bit. Promising to generate new housing as you eliminate the sustaining base of working, middle-class and poor neighbors isn’t planning — it’s destruction. People work long years at creating culture and constructing a web of caring and commitment between one another and their institutions.

There are no geographic boundaries on this issue. It is a citywide problem that needs a citywide solution. We are losing the inimitable Harlem and Chinatown and other communities. We can and do fold new neighbors into existing neighborhoods, but we do not agree to a whole-cloth renovation of our communities to suit profiteers.

An unfortunate quote from a museum official is telling: “Once the new building opens, it will change the complexion of the Lower East Side.” Some of this change to the complexion of our neighborhood is readily evident. It is not, however, something to be striven for, nor in the best interest of this city.

We do not have to settle for becoming a city determined by the habits of the financially privileged.

Kathleen Webster
Webster is co-chairperson, M’Finda Garden