Gems from the Archives
CHPC would like to thank the Dickler Family Foundation for its leadership support of the preservation of our archive. We are also indebted to the Documentary Heritage Program at the New York State archives for its grant support in 2012. This has allowed us to re-arrange, re-house, and describe our entire collection and opened up these valuable records for the first time.
Over the last 70 years, CHPC has amassed a vast and unparalleled archive of primary source documents. Each month we profile a new discovery from our collection.
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The Pedestrianization of Times Square
A drawing of the proposed Broadway Plaza, 1974.
This week has witnessed a kerfuffle around Times Square. From complaints about topless women in the pedestrian plaza, concerns have now become existential for the plaza itself as Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested it might be time to return the space to the use of cars. We dug into the CHPC archives to find out more about the “pedestrianization” of Times Square.
Of course, the removal of cars from Times Square is considered one of the more memorable urban planning achievements of de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. But it …Read more
Contentious Redevelopment in Harlem
The Polo Grounds Houses in Harlem. Photo: NY Daily News
Discrimination and segregation in housing have been the subjects of national conversation in recent weeks. First, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in a fair housing case emanating from Texas. Following that, there was news of a lawsuit against New York City alleging that its practice of setting aside apartments in new subsidized buildings for local residents perpetuates discrimination.
Sadly but unsurprisingly, even a quick search of “discrimination” or “segregation” in the CHPC archives yields a trove of historical records, documents, and policy discussions.
One example from 1960s …Read more
The Urgency of State Legislation on Housing
The East Side of Manhattan in 1938, just as housing was under the microscope of the state legislature. /Image: CHPC archives
As the current legislative session wraps up in Albany this week, the expiration of important housing laws looms large on the horizon. The laws governing both the 421-a tax exemption for housing development and the New York City’s rent stabilization will sunset. Public debate has simmered over and now seems to have quieted down, though Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will call the legislature back into session if nothing is done and Mayor Bill de Blasio has raised …Read more
Justifying tax exemptions for housing—in 1933
Lincoln Square undergoing slum clearance
As we edge closer to the expiration of New York State laws that create the 421-a tax incentive for housing, the debate about its reform—and indeed, its fundamental merit—has heated up. As always, contemporary debates are a wonderful chance for CHPC to dive back into its archives for relevant wisdom.
This week we’ve unearthed a pair of gems that explore the same debate: whether government should spend a valuable resource to build housing. But these documents—one an explainer, the other a fully impassioned argument—despite their close parallels with the 421-a debate, …Read more
Weighing The Merits Of Building Tall
Fort Greene in the 1950s. Image: Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times
Rezoning and density are words that kindle very different emotions and reactions—from excitement and curiosity to fear and anger. The current proposed changes to New York City’s zoning code have sparked all of those amidst growing debate.
In this edition of Gems from the Archives, we explore some interesting and prescient dialogue about the urban environment. We have touched on the issues of zoning and planning in other Gems posts—as in the creation of new neighborhoods like Battery Park City and anti-development organizing around Washington Square …Read more
Building Housing Over the Tracks
The New York City planning and development world received a jolt of energy in Feburary, when Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his State of the City address. He announced his intention to redevelop the Sunnyside railyard in western Queens, a 200-acre site, with housing and neighborhood amenities. This announcement quickly met some doubt both from Albany and from various pundits around the city. A complicated mix of layout, soil composition, and land ownership issues will combine to make Sunnyside a difficult project.
But Sunnyside will not be the first place in the city where existing railroad infrastructure makes …Read more
Remembering Mario Cuomo and Forest Hills
Photo credit Richard Kalvar/Magnum
CHPC remembers the late former Governor Mario Cuomo as a true servant of the public. To that end we delved into our archives to uncover the work that propelled him into public life.
In the late 1960s, Cuomo, a lawyer from Queens, became involved with a group of Corona residents who resisted a city proposal that would have displaced them in order to build a high school. From that experience, Cuomo was asked by Mayor John Lindsay to analyze the turmoil that resulted from a subsequent proposal to build low-income housing alongside the Long Island …Read more
Affordable Housing Trust Funds Past and Present
Former NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller
This week brought news that the two government housing giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, would begin contributing to a fund dedicated to affordable housing. As Bloomberg reports, this pot of money, known as the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, has existed since Congress created it in 2008—but has lain empty ever since.
Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt announced that the financial condition of Fannie and Freddie, which kept them from contributing, has improved. The decision to start contributing to the fund has been welcomed and panned by Democrat and Republican elected …Read more
Recognizing the Importance of Community Parks
Mayor Bill de Blasio announces new NYC parks program
In October, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a “Community Parks Initiative” that recognizes the importance of the parks beyond Central Park or Prospect Park, where a couple basketball or handball courts serve as community magnets. The first phase of the plan, dubbed NYC Parks: Framework for an Equitable Future, will invest $130 million in capital funds to refurbish existing parks around the city. The plan has come in for criticism that it doesn’t go far enough.
Of course, this is not the first time New York’s …Read more
Creating New Neighborhoods in NYC
The landfill set to become Battery Park City.
This week the NYC Department of City Planning announced a study that will help forge a new neighborhood in the Bronx. This followed on the heels of an op-ed by Charles Urstadt arguing in favor of filling in the Harlem River to create new land area. CHPC went into its archives in search of some precedent for this daunting—and for some, mouth-watering—urban planning challenge.
Just two months after humankind first walked on the moon, the master plan for an entirely new New York City neighborhood was published. The Battery …Read more