A recent New York Times article highlights an increasingly common practice being used around New York City as a way to pay for government services. Cultural institutions desperately in need of repair such as schools and public libraries are being sold developers, torn down, and rebuilt on the ground floor of new apartment towers, all without any expense to the public.
Although is not the first time officials have mingled private development and schools, the Times article notes that the pace is accelerating, stating that “three projects have been executed since 2008 and the latest proposal would sweet up three schools at once. “Examples of this practice are popping up all over- including the Brooklyn Heights Library on Cadman Plaza and another library near the Barclays Center. According to the Times article, the library system needs repairs to the tune of $230 million for its 60 branches city wide. The Brooklyn Heights library was closed for 30 days last summer because the air conditioning system was down and replacing it would cost $3 million. The Pacific Branch was built in 1904 and has a 10-step entrance but no ramps for wheelchairs or strollers, and suffers from a leaky, overcrowded, poorly air-conditioned interior, according to the article.
Some are calling this a “win-win” situation- the public gets a new library or school, and the developers get to build. Others aren’t quite so sure. The Times article reports that residents have raised concerns about how they will have to travel to reach the new libraries, and where their children will attend school while the towers are being constructed.
Also alarming is the effect this practice will have on the aesthetic and cultural character of the neighborhood. The residents are fearful of what will happen when local institutions, to which some are deeply attached or are even considered neighborhood landmarks, are “swallowed into stacks of concrete, steel, and glass.”
The Times article quotes Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban planning at New York University, as saying “Brooklyn is booming and the library system doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines and not use it as a chance to upgrade its branches. At a time when people don’t want to raise taxes, taking advantage of the value of the property is one of the more intelligent ways to invest in the library system while getting new revenue.”
Not surprisingly, developers are pleased with the new arrangement.