Volume 78 / Number 9 - July 30 - August 5, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


 20 years later: Things change

Twenty years ago, at the end of the first major Tompkins Square Park riots in recent history, East Village anti-gentrification activists wound up the harrowing night by trashing the lobby of the Christodora House. Protesters threw police sawhorses into the lobby while tossing potted plants out.

Back then, Christodora was the target. Anti-gentrification activists correctly saw the edge of the upscaling wave coming. Christodora, as real-estate brokers will vouch, as such a large luxury redevelopment, clearly was a huge linchpin in the neighborhood’s transformation.

Today, Christodora is home to some members of the East Village Community Coalition, a group formed by Michael Rosen and others several years ago to battle Gregg Singer’s plan to tear down the neighboring old P.S. 64 and build a towering university dormitory. Despite valiant efforts, CHARAS/El Bohio — the old school building’s previous tenant — and its supporters were unable to save the building from Singer’s takeover. It took E.V.C.C. — admittedly a latecomer to the struggle — to get the old P.S. 64 landmarked, stymieing Singer’s dorm plan.

Recent protest marches led by a group dubbed the L.E.S. Slacktivists started out focusing on the Bowery Wine Club, a new bar, because it held a Young Republicans mixer. The Slacktivists have also decried the Economakises, the landlords at 47 E. Third St., for their plans to mass-evict the five-story building’s tenants to create a personal mansion.

Including many veteran squatters and activists from 1988, it’s not surprising that the Slacktivists conclude all their marches outside Christodora House with chants of “Die Yuppie Scum!”

But their targeting of Rosen is, we feel, misguided. Rosen has bristled at their chants — he recently went over to See Sqwat and went toe to toe with Slacktivist Jerry The Peddler, telling him to cut it out with the “Die Yuppie Scum!” chants. But, then last week, large “Kill Yuppies” and “Eat the Rich” graffiti appeared on Christodora’s wall.

Although he did develop Red Square on E. Houston St., Rosen says he’s not technically a yuppie, since, well, for starters, he’s no longer young. As would anyone, he objects to his family members being called “scum,” especially the three young men from local housing projects who he virtually adopted as his own sons, who lived in his house and who he is now putting through college.

Not only did Rosen and E.V.C.C. succeed in landmarking the old P.S. 64, that fight, in turn, led to the push to rezone the East Village and Lower East Side to cap building heights and stop oversized towers. Rosen and E.V.C.C. are also backing a novel initiative to rezone the area to limit the incursion of so-called formula chain stores. (The Slacktivists note there are chain retail stores in Red Square, but Rosen says he has “no control” over those spaces and that he “learned” from that example, leading him to the anti-formula idea.)

Some of the Slacktivists charge that Rosen has had an inordinate influence on Community Board 3 and local elected officials, namely former Councilmember Margarita Lopez and current Councilmember Rosie Mendez. For his part, David McWater, past chairperson of C.B. 3, noted he’s never even seen the Slacktivist’s most vocal leader, and that he ought to come to a C.B. 3 meeting once in a while.

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, things can get personal. Sometimes people may resent others who have the connections and the wherewithal to get things done. But it would be more constructive if people who care about their community — people like the Slacktivists and people like Rosen — could get together and work together.

Sure, some might get a rush in shouting “Die Yuppie Scum!” But to yell it at a guy who’s trying to make a difference, well, it’s just plain wrong.

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