Parking vs. Preservation

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On a warm Sunday in August 2014, bulldozers started tearing away at a historic, turn-of-the-century loft space. Although the first floor was sealed with unsightly cinder blocks, the upper floor was adorned with large Chicago windows and intricate terracotta fretwork. In the neo-classical tradition, the structure sported a detailed cornice, white ornamentation, and copious bunting. The building was so sturdy it took demolition crews many hours of pounding and loud smashing to significantly weaken the structure. When the outside walls finally fell, they exposed sturdy concrete floors over a foot thick and hundreds of re-bars for added durability.

Situated on the corner of Washington and Bleecker Streets, the 2-story neo-classical structure stood in the heart of the James Street Commons Historic District. Normally, such a structure would never be demolished but . . . The property’s owner is Edison Parking, one of the largest landowners in Newark and New York City. Its owner, Jerry Gottesman, spent $1 million to oppose the High Line. His company also owns Manhattan Mini Storage, whose billboards in New York City read — “Bloomberg is gone. Time to put the bikes away.” To profit from blight, this landbanker buys cheap land, waits for its value to improve, and then profits without doing anything. While waiting, Edison Parking generates huge revenue from surface parking. Often ten dollars an hour for one parking spot. Multiply the results by 60,000 parking spots daily!

In fact, demolition is in Edison’s best interest. Real estate is taxed according to the value of the structure, not the land. Therefore, Edison’s huge land holdings share almost no tax burden. Edison doesn’t even pay for storm water runoff, which is calculated by a property’s water consumption. In other words, the public heavily subsidizes surface parking. Only under the current land-use policy is Edison’s greed and urban blight rewarded.

Edison’s evasion of the law is a high art. In this case, the property Edison destroyed is on the National Register of Historic Places and is protected by local and Federal law. All the same, this parking mongol quietly acquired surrounding land. Then, Edison secretly removed the historic property’s windows and poked holes in its roof to cause intentional water damage. Finally, Edison hired an unlicensed engineer to inspect the property. Edison then obtained a demolition permit from Newark’s corrupt Engineering Department, without approval from the Historic Preservation and Landmark Commission. In one weekend, this historic building and its many stories were purged from history.

When the public noticed the illegal demolition, it was too late. The Landmarks Commission called an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis. Sitting directly behind me was a heavy, suburban lady, obviously working for Edison. Upon learning no city code enforcement officers were present, she whispered under her breath, “Yes! Excellent!” and promptly left the meeting.

Joined by many outraged citizens, I spoke before the Commission:

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My name is Myles. I am a life long Newark resident.

Parking is a travesty. I have seen . . .

Too many viable buildings demolished in the name of progress.

Too many parking lots erected to serve commuters indifferent to Newark.

Too many vacant lots awaiting non-existent development.

This blight of so-called “development” must stop.

Newark is a city with a strong history. Its buildings are testament to that. Yet, unscrupulous developers’ utter disrespect for our heritage threatens our urban identity.

Newark has future potential. Its buildings are testament to that. Yet, unscrupulous land banking slows down the development our city so desperately needs.

Newark is a lawless city. Its buildings are testament to that.

Parking developers have no right to illegally demolish historic structures. They do so anyway.

Parking developers have no right to channel millions of gallons of storm water runoff without paying a cent. They do so anyway.

Parking developers are not above the law. They think they are anyway.

Those who break the law must be held accountable.

Letting unscrupulous destruction continue without government oversight is permitting lawlessness to continue.

Letting Edison Parking demolish our architectural heritage is telling them, “Go ahead, do it again.”

A thief does not think he will be caught. A thief does not stop until he is punished.

I realize Newark’s Historic Preservation Commission does not have the power to levy fines or jail these surface-parking criminals. But this commission has . . .

The power to lobby for stronger legislation that will protect our neighborhoods.

The power to prevent continued parking construction.

The power to force corrupt city officials to do their job.

I admire the invaluable service you have rendered this city so far. I encourage you to do more. I encourage you to fight these ignorant developers. Even if victories may be pyrrhic, at least there is the comforting knowledge that one fought greed, corruption, lawlessness, and ignorance.

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In 1978, the James Street Commons were made a historic district. In the Federal approval process, each building was meticulously identified and photographed. Each time I review these images, I painfully remember vanished buildings and our lost heritage. Edison Parking is not alone. Many other institutions in this historic district also contribute to the destruction of public assets and, therefore, to their own identity. For instance, a few years ago, a large public university schemed a land-swap with Jerry Gottesman at this very demolition site. It did so to evade regulations preventing state institutions from demolishing historic structures. As a result of this short-sighted practice, this university has painfully transformed itself into an inferior commuter school, a trend it now tries to reverse.

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Detroit: Year Zero

Detroit is living misery. It is the very antithesis of urbanization and a victim of America’s senseless auto culture. Thousands of homes lie vacant and decaying. Copious infrastructure built to serve millions serves only thousands. Highways slashed through decaying neighborhoods serve a city devoid of life in many parts. Downtown is a skyscraper graveyard full of empty storefronts and a labyrinth of rotting art deco architectural gems.

During WWII, Detroit was dubbed “the arsenal of democracy” for all the military equipment it rolled out. Planes from Detroit went on to bomb European cities (like Dresden) to smithereens. In a form of fitting, yet ironic, justice Detroit has been bombed to smithereens. Except this time, it isn’t a B-27 doing the dirty destruction, it’s a culture of decay and the very society that erected this metropolis.

After Detroit’s 1967 Riots, over 200,000 whites fled Detroit for good. They left behind a racially divided city. They wiped their hands clean of decades of corruption and let the “blacks manage themselves.” White corruption became black corruption. Out with the old rascals and in with the new. And the birthplace of the automobile plummets ever lower.

Attempts to rectify Detroit’s fallen stature make a mockery of progress. An empty monorail endlessly circles a downtown devoid of life. Renaissance Center soars above downtown, secluded from the helpless city. Renaissance Center is a corporate Death Star accessible only by car. The ominous Greektown Casino abuts the city jail. Whites commute to Detroit for sports games at Comerica Field and then flee afterwards. Everywhere there is parking, parking, parking . . . Detroit billionaire Dan Gilbert even proposed creating a demolition countdown clock that listed the number of vacant buildings to be demolished.

Detroit is a failure on countless levels. It represents the failure of government to stem the victorious forces of suburbanization and cars. It represents the failure of short-sighted planning and American industrial might. It represents the failure of democracy to level the playing field of racial divides. De facto segregated Detroit has become de jure segregated Detroit. Detroit is by all means a failure. Then and again, the forces causing the downfall of this metropolis are just as guilty. Government. The free-market. The auto industry. Capitalism.

Detroit’s Latin motto is: “Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus.”

We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes.