The mayor should appoint a strong, independent thinker to Landmarks Commission
By Tara Kelly, FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districts
Upper East Side Our neighborhood lays claim to institutions of global renown, spanning decades of cultural investment from the Metropolitan Museum to the Guggenheim on Museum Mile. The most-visited scenic landmark in the world, Central Park, is right in our back yard. We are also proud of our livable, lovable street-scapes like Lexington Avenue, which boasts its own institutions - the generations-old "mom and pop" shops. From white brick to brownstone, we cherish the Upper East Side's distinctive sense of place. It is what makes this neighborhood, and this city, great.
While we protect over 2,000 historic buildings, the Upper East Side is by no means "preserved in amber" as claimed by some opponents to preservation. Our districts include new buildings such as the synagogue on East 63rd Street and a residential building at 91st and Madison Avenue in Carnegie Hill. We have honored new construction with our Excellence in New Design Award, which will be bestowed upon 135 East 79th Street this year.
Some think that preservation is at odds with the Mayor's aim to preserve and increase affordable housing. The City & Suburban First Avenue Estate, designated not only for its architectural merit, but its significance in the history of affordable housing, is a great example of how the goals of these two interests are happily met. While we fight strenuously to save these two landmark buildings from demolition by their owner, rent-regulated tenants are fighting to save their homes. We are in this together.
Our concerns are not limited by the boundaries of the Upper East Side. We need a comprehensive land use plan for the entire city, neighborhood by neighborhood -- one that incorporates zoning, transportation, infrastructure, affordable housing, AND historic preservation in equal measure. At the same time, the Landmarks Preservation Commission must be independent, and have the freedom and means to carry out its mission, "to stabilize and improve property values; foster civic pride; protect and enhance the City's attractions to tourists; strengthen the economy of the City; and promote the use of historic districts, landmarks, interior landmarks, and scenic landmarks for the education, pleasure and welfare of the people of the City."
Make no mistake, we - along with our colleagues - are not anti-development, we are pro-preservation.