Preserving a Neighborhood’s Character Op-Ed

| 02 Nov 2015 | 03:24

Recently news broke that developers will build a 55-story luxury condo at 200 Amsterdam Avenue, the site of the former Lincoln Square Synagogue. It will be the tallest building on the Upper West Side, and because the development is “as of right,” there will be no process for community input and no required investment in the infrastructure of the neighborhood. That means that our schools, public transportation, traffic, and streets will continue to be overburdened.

The Upper West Side is beleaguered by as of right development. It’s easy for developers to get a permit from the Department of Buildings, so luxury development runs amok. That is just one of the reasons why our Historic Districts and the Landmarks process is so important: not only does the designation preserve the unique character of a building or neighborhood, it also allows for a process of review and community input. Historic districts and landmarks do not prevent development from taking place, but they require an approval process that involves the community.

This month the final extension of the West End Ave Historic District was officially designated. Now the IRT Powerhouse, located at 59th street and West End Avenue, is under consideration for Landmark designation. The Powerhouse’s special place in our city’s history makes it imperative that we work to preserve the building and its legacy. The building proclaimed the arrival of electrified mass transit through never before seen technical sophistication and engineering creativity. As the powerhouse for the signal and lighting systems in New York’s first subway, it played a vital part in helping to transform New York into the city it is today.

The Powerhouse’s design embodies the very best of the City Beautiful movement, and the union of practical and aesthetic advances achieved through urban progress. Its design is functional while serving also to enrich the neighborhood with its Beaux Arts aesthetic. The Powerhouse is a technical and architectural marvel, and I cannot think of a more fitting memorial to its era of progress and triumph.

Both because of its story and its design, the Powerhouse is an inspiring monument to New York’s progress and development -- and to the public transportation system that is essential to the everyday lives of millions of New Yorkers.

At a time when it is so easy for developers to erect a 55-story building “as of right,” we must act now to preserve the Powerhouse and this chapter of our history.

Helen Rosenthal represents the Upper West Side on the New York City Council