I haven't said anything to date about the City's stultifyingly stupid and misguided plan to rezone 125th Street. But a recent article in the New York Times, which featured a mind-blowingly narrow-minded comment by the Department of City Planning deeply inappropriate chairwoman, Amanda Burden, has compelled me to weigh in. So here goes: The plan is stultifyingly stupid and misguided.
Surprised I think it's a bad idea? Yeah, I didn't think so. But, call me naive—I am surprised that somebody, anybody could think this was a good idea. The African-American community of Harlem sticks it out through thick and (mostly) thin, remaining in place so as to hold on to its history and heritage in the once-glorious, but long-blighted neighborhood, and how does the City repay them? By opening the gate to blue-chip development. Bring in those office towers, where the locals won't be able to rent space! Bring in those condos, where the locals can't afford to live! Tear down the low-scale buildings, some part of the landscape for 100 years, and cast the open, airy street in darkness!
Why is glass, steel, office space and luxury housing this administration's answer to every city planning "problem." Is there no other way to revitalize a neighborhood? Must every neighborhood look like a place where Bloomberg could work and live? Are anonymous condo complexes more attractive than brownstones, however tumbledown? Is an anodyne doorman lobby better than a bumptious bodega?
To Burden's mind, probably so. Which brings us to that very telling comment of hers. She told the Times that "The idea that the street needed development hit her, she said, when she attended a recent Roberta Flack concert at the Apollo with a friend who works on the street. After the concert ended, Ms. Burden said, she asked her friend where they should eat. `Downtown,' the friend replied. "There should be a million different eateries around there, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to frame and control growth on 125th Street. The energy on the street is just remarkable, and it’s got to stay that way."
I'd be embarrassed for her if I weren't so furious. Dining choices? For upper-crust twits? That is a reason to overhaul a street, to irrevocably change its personality, erase the legacy of a people who have lived and died there for a century? You know what? If I had gone to that Roberta Flack concert and was hungry afterwards, I would have known where to eat. I would have known where to go. Anyone who knew the first thing about Harlem would have. The place may not have had white tablecloths or a snooty hostess or careful lighting, but it would have had good food, some of it of a kind you can't find the better of anywhere in the City. Sylvia's, Amy Ruth's, Rao's and Patsy's, just to begin with the legendary places. There is wonderful Senegalese food to be found. A Zagat's will tell you about plenty more.
Much Jean-Georges open something on old 125 for Harlem to past muster?
Wait a minute! It's all coming together now. Mayor Mike likes Subway sandwiches and Cheeze-Its. The Parks Department doesn't like the Red Hook Ballfields food vendors. Burden doesn't think there is anything to eat in Harlem. It's all so clear! The Bloombergians hate good food! No wonder they're so miserable.