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Renaissance of the Upper West Side

Many West Siders agree with Mr. Marquit's appraisal. City Councilman Theodore S. Weiss said that while he was delighted by some of the area's development, he saw no guarantee that the renaissance wouldn't continue until low-and moderate-income families could no longer afford to live there.

"In my building," Weiss began, "which is uncontrolled, lease renewals have gone up 40 to 80 per cent. We lost six young families in six months. They could not afford to stay. On top of that is a very, very serious public safety problem. Schools present terrible problems to kids and they're substantially worse in low-income areas where the system throws some of the most problem-ridden together. This renaissance can be misleading. It can be a rich man's renaissance. A lot of East Siders have been caught in the housing squeeze themselves and the large cooperatives and brownstones and four-and five-bedroom apartments over here are becoming more and more tempting to them. The West Side is on the razor's edge. It runs the terrible risk of becoming the East Side."

The possibility that the West Side's development may be running wild has not gone unnoticed by either Donald H. Elliott, the city's planning commissioner; Jason R. Nathan, who heads the Housing and Development Administration, or any of the extremely active and knowledgeable local groups like the Lincoln Square Community Council. In the Lincoln Square area alone (Columbus Circle north to West 72nd Street and from Central Park to the River) over $358 million has been spent in commercial buildings and $321 million in luxury housing since the blossoming of Lincoln Center. (Land values in the area rose until today property in the Columbus Circle-Central Park West area costs $200 per square foot; Broadway between 61st and 69th Streets, $100 per square foot; 64th to 69th Streets between Central Park West and Broadway, $60 per square foot, and the Amsterdam and West End Avenue area from 59th Street to 65th Street is $35 per square foot. The increase has lately become so marked that property that now sells for $35 per square foot sold at $25 just one year ago.)

A private study of the area's development was financed by the city's Planning Commission and the Lincoln Square Community Council, and the report stated that while it is sound government policy to encourage private capital to renew areas that will attract white residents, "the local residents feel threatened by such renewal.

"New construction usually means displacement of the poor, the elderly, the Negro and the Puerto Rican, including many who are lifelong residents. The spectre is of a district and not a neighborhood; impacted with non-local institutions; filled with large buildings of high-income, childless occupants; congested and hazardous streets, and of an impersonal and over-whelming environment.

"For many West Siders, the East Side can't be mentioned without comments about its 'sterility' and lack of community life."

"Thus the basic issue facing Lincoln Square and the city is how to retain both the neighborhood's social and physical diversity and simultaneously accommodate and control necessary new growth."

Unguided growth could produce, according to some planners, a string of massive institutional buildings like schools, hospitals and cultural centers along Broadway from Lincoln Center to Columbia University. "It might seem far-fetched at first," one planner said, "but remember that Fordham's new building in Lincoln Center must be multiplied 40 times to accommodate the projected student population in 30 years. Columbia to the north has similar problems, and with the natural tendency of institutions to build near each other, Broadway could someday be lined with a wall of essentially alien and insular communities—because that's just what such institutions really are."

The Lincoln Square Special Zoning District was created, therefore, and empowered by the legislature to save threatened residential blocks, guide commercial development in the area and provide builders, through a complicated set of zoning concessions that could prove extremely profitable, with a realistic justification for incorporating arcades, galleries, pedestrian promenades and sheltered plazas for the public in the over-all design of their buildings. According to Richard Weinstein, director of the City Planning Department's Manhattan office, the Lincoln Square Zoning District is "the most sophisticated effort by a municipality to build significant public works with private money."

With the assistance of Hart, Krivatsy and Stubee, a New York- and San Francisco-based team of brilliant young planning consultants, the special zoning has the potential of turning the West Side into one of the most beautiful parts of the city rather than a jumbled horror. "It's very simple, really," one zoning expert said. "By allowing a builder to add five more stories to his office building, or so many more thousand feet of floor space, or any of a whole series of concessions or bonuses which will make this building more profitable, he agrees to incorporate a promenade or an underground subway entrance with open space and light.


  • Archive: “Real Estate
  • From the Jun 30, 1969 issue of New York
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