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Gentrifying the Air

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The tenants’ long list of concerns boils down to this: They don’t want to feel like second-class citizens in their own projects. They worry that this is a step toward selling off public-housing stock completely and throwing residents to the mercy of rapacious developers. The agency has been making reassuring noises, promising that all new buildings will include at least 20 percent affordable housing, and hinted that it would favor developers who can figure out how to raise that number without—and here’s the catch—eroding profitability. nycha has also vowed not to tear down any apartment buildings or displace any residents—who will get preference for the new buildings. (Less wisely, it plans to replace all subsidized parking spots.)

Still, the debate is shrouded in rancor. “You can’t have a discussion on the merits of the proposal, because tenants simply don’t believe what nycha is saying,” says Nick Prigo, the co-chair of the housing committee at Community Board 7, whose district contains the Douglass Houses.

The agency has a good strategy, but it still has to prove that it knows how to prevent private development from aggravating the troubles of public housing. You can’t guarantee sensitivity, but you can insist on a solution more integrated, inspiring, and humane than merely squeezing the biggest possible buildings into the available lots. How new structures interweave with the old, how different populations coexist, how people move between the streets and the inner greens—all these are complex urban problems that capable architects can tackle creatively, given the leeway and the time. The best way to maximize the chances of screwing up is to be hasty, blinkered, and greedy.


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