Volume 73, Number 44 | March 3 - 9, 2004

Landmarks must save the waterfront, before it’s too late

It was encouraging to see the new Landmarks Preservation Commission chairperson, Robert Tierney, meet with Community Board 2’s Landmarks Task Force last week to discuss pressing landmarks issues in the district.

However, while the discussion was good and a dialogue was opened — which hopefully will continue regularly at future meetings — it was discouraging to hear that Landmarks seems incapable of addressing the crisis now threatening the Far West Village and waterfront.

Specifically, Tierney said that the commission is now mainly interested in landmarking areas outside of Manhattan, such as Crown Heights, in Brooklyn. On top of requests pouring in for new historic district designations, he said the commission is short-staffed. The result is Board 2 — bounded by 14th and Canal Sts., the Hudson River and Fourth Ave./Bowery — is not where the commission is currently focusing its limited resources.

It is a shame that Lower Manhattan’s priceless historic landscape must suffer from an either-or situation, where only some endangered architecture can be saved, while other worthy buildings must fall to the wrecking ball.

That is sadly what is currently happening on the Village waterfront, where new designer towers for the glitterati are replacing low-scale utilitarian structures from the area’s industrial past.

Specifically, the area between Horatio and Barrow Sts., west of Washington St. — on some blocks, west of Greenwich St. — must be landmarked.

Yes, it’s true that the Greenwich Village Historic District is one of the largest in the city, that L.P.C. just designated the Gansevoort Market Historic District and recently designated historic districts in Noho. One might say Board 2 has had ample help from Landmarks.

However, nowhere else in the city is development so rampant at this moment as in Board 2, specifically on the waterfront. Witness the recent New York magazine article with Richard Meier’s Perry St. towers on the cover, hailing the new “Condo Coast.”

As someone said after the meeting with Tierney, developers aren’t slapping down millions of dollars to build glass-sheathed towers in Crown Heights.

Also, it’s important to safeguard areas on historic districts’ edges. There’s no better example of this than what happened south of Washington Sq., where New York University built its hulking Kimmel Center and School of Law buildings. These buildings have forever altered the feeling of historic Washington Sq. The community is pushing to designate a South Village historic district, and hopefully Landmarks will approve it without delay.

However, without landmarking being extended, the future is clear. It looks like the Kimmel Center and like Morton Square. It looks like glass-walled buildings along the beach in Miami. It doesn’t look like Greenwich Village.

An emergency town hall is set for March 10. Hopefully, Landmarks’ chairperson and others will hear Villagers when they say in mass that the waterfront must be saved. Hopefully, in the future, the Village will still look like the Village.


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