ASL Building Doomed: 100 Years or Less

Open Letter to the Art Students League Membership and The Resistance


As the proposal stands now the ASL is turned into an artifact.   It is being readied for placement in nothing more than photographs of where it once was. I have three ideas for addressing the problem faced by the membership of the ASL. Each one recognizes the status of the existing conditions.  Each has an outside chance of keeping ASL a part of the New York City artist community.  All three would be a slam dunk.


A concern of every institution of learning is to reflect effectively on its experience. This responsibility now remains posited firmly before the entire membership of the ASL. At present, to “not vote” or to vote “NO” has been predefined as an act of futility, if not the essence of an”absurd vote”. This has made the members of the ASL part of a radically changed society, but more importantly it is now required to fully assess the terror of this new condition, but look on the bright side. The coalitions of those who resist “the project” have an opportunity to establish new principles for adoption by a more innovative, possibly energized ASL board and membership. These principles arise from the three new realities embedded in the project and revealed in the ongoing evaluation of its proposals.

Without doubt the members of the ASL are of “the 99%” of citizens of this city and nation.  The ASL will therefore re-dedicate its aesthetic vision, art and talent to the recognition of social inequality and to the best of its ability, take the steps needed to move toward its eradication as a social pathology in this city and this nation.

  • Never has the seriousness of this issue been more clearly revealed than in the value of residential and commercial floor area defined by this project.   Over one third of all renters (2/3 of all residents) in NYC now pay over half of their income for rent.  Rent has increased by 8.6% from 2007 to 2011 while the cities median-income decreased by 6.8% in the same period. [1]  The income gap in Manhattan is comparable to areas of great social distress such as Sierra Leone.  None can present the beauty and dignity of being poor with greater clarity than the artist.  This truth must remain in the heart of ASL.


The second fact revealed by “the project” is equally disturbing to any rational observer not blinded by the ways gold can darken our future. The nature of membership in the ASL society has been revealed as a token, each participant a mere actor on a stage of their choosing, but damned by their will to lead.  In the face of this great change the value of the ASL society is strained by clouds of tradeoffs, exchanges and quid pro quo rationalizations.  If there is to be art, the artist must see the truth.  The leaders of the ASL have delivered nothing more than a sense of hopelessness and for this the members of the resistance should be saddened, yet resolved to move forward with new leadership.

  • The resistance to “the project” recognizes the capacity of great wealth to overwhelm the old and weak with its power.   With this knowledge the resistance to “the project” will pledge their unyielding energy to a new purpose.  The resistance to the project and membership of the ASL therefore call for the resignation of the board, not in distrust, but with common recognition that new leadership is the only chance the members might have to recover from the overwhelming sense of worthlessness bestowed upon the history and legacy of the ASL by the current board.


The third strategy has value in two ways, first, if heard by the developers and deemed reasonable, it offers an overwhelming motive to maximize the projects potential and therefore give pause to re-evaluate.   This may yield the time to assess the ability of “the resistance” to move the following proposal forward.   It offers the possibility to acquire a briefly postponed vote in order to obtain a serious review of a wholly new future for the ASL.

A innovative proposal has yet to be fully considered.  It is one that is equally controversial, but it suggests a vision for art in our society is now required to leap into the future as opposed to being “bought out” of it.   In reviewing the literature and the law, the only way to assure that the ASL will survive as an institution is to completely reinvent itself.

  • The resistance therefore offers to yield to “the project” all of the land held by the ASL in trade for a doubling of the equivalent floor area in perpetuity and in a manner that will meet the needs of artists for the next millennia.   Charge the developers with the responsibility to provide for the ASL a superior space, dedicated to the future of fairness and to the truth that art brings to life and society.  The ASL has the opportunity to weave its belief in this unique part of human energy into the mission of urban development.  The opportunity for a rebirth is the rarest of all gifts.  This is the true offer; it is not in the few coins now tossed on the table.

A personal note:

In reviewing the literature and the law it is highly unlikely this option could inject the ASL into the future, it is however one that must be reviewed.   The reasons for the “unlikely success” of this option is that half of the resistance to the proposal as it stands is resistance to change itself.  It is therefore extremely difficult to establish a majority view toward inclusive forms of change.

Nevertheless, it is highly important to retell and remind all who can hear, that the history of New York City is filled with the energy of institutions in buildings that are no longer here.  Far too many of them remain lost to a hope that parts of the human spirit cannot be crushed forever. Like MAS, the ASL should be an institution capable of recognizing its fate and therefore return to the challenge of art.

[1] See report released by New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, the “State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods 2012”

Zoning GHG


New York City’s newest set of proposed zoning changes will re-write rules to remove impediments to the construction and retrofitting of buildings in every land use.  The objective: reduce urban energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) production. The bottom line is the $15 billion/year spent to heat and power buildings that represent 80 percent of the city’s carbon emissions.  Reduction in consumption improves well being.

Can zoning regulations reduce the urban carbon footprint and lower energy costs? Assuring buildings have a good air-barrier and insulation on the exterior will yield energy performance. Why is encouraging a good air/insulation barrier, (four to eight inches) a zoning issue?

The added bulk to get energy efficiency is counted under existing regulations.  This reduces the usable space within the building and ends up in a cost/income trade-off and it tends to build in a substandard “triple net” energy cost transfer from the developer to the lease holder or owner. The new regulations will exempt the added bulk in relation to floor area limits (FAR) and open space regulations (OSR).

Will this reduce the TDC/ROI energy trade off? (total development cost to return on investment ratio)

Solar panels, rooftop greenhouses will also be exempt from FAR, and height limits in some cases, as long as the greenhouse is on top of a building that does not house residences. The result of these changes will be slightly bulkier, somewhat taller buildings that are more energy efficient.

A number regarding the discount from $15 billion in today’s energy cost and the reduction of GHGs also requires an estimate. The cost of confirming compliance is yet another public responsibility. This requires a factor as well, that is sufficiently off set by penalties that are equal the obvious incentives.

The City Planning Commission process began December 19, 2011 with the submission of the new regulations to the five borough presidents and the city’s 59 community boards. The goal is to formalize the new regulations by Spring 2012.

One Bryant Park

In thoughtful research reporting the requirement to sum up should become a responsibility of participation.  In Skyscrapers and the World of Tomorrow posted to Planetizen on September, 1 2011 by editors Jeff Jamawat, Kris Fortin, Tim Halbur and Victor Negrete, the questions sought to define the place for very big buildings, but the article ends by suggesting, the problem lies in a lack of a clear, agreed-upon vision for the future. Lots of luck with that one, but they give it a try.

According to the article, the content of this vision requires data that confirms the efficacy of the following steps.

  1. add full life cycle analysis (e.g. embodied energy) to LEED certification (McEeaney, Toberian)
  2. advance smart building technologies (Black, Leung, Appel)
  3. remove barriers to high (even ultra) density in the right places (Glaeser)
  4. prevent bottom-feeding architecture and beware the onset of tower blight (Kunstler)
  5. remove political gridlock (everybody)

Top of the line sellers provide the data needed for the first two steps thanks to high-end buyers of the technology (see video below).  Much of the data from these systems is proprietary and slows the rate of change, but at least it is pay-it-forward change. These investment institutions are strong and global.

The remaining three define the lack of clear vision problem less optimistically.  All of our democratic institutions face demands for NASA-style investment goals amidst fix-it-first philosophies.  How do we dissolve the contradictions of these two different approaches?

In our recent national history, we attacked a similar problem from the top-down and the grass-roots-up with top end ideas such as the Hreat Society and things like Headstart in a local precinct. Part of it included an investment in demonstration cities, later renamed Model Cities while another part vociferously disagreed with an America entering a permanent state of war.  All of this began a process that forever changed the vision of the urban world.

Today, envisioning the a city and our future is inseparable but this begs the question.  The vision that will remove the barriers, release unlimited wealth for growth, and break the gridlock is one of the city and a wilderness that is separate and inviolate. That is what is missing, that is what we need.

Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park from Cook+Fox Architects on Vimeo.

Sum Up Vanderbilt Yards

x x 


The history of keeping things “out of your back yard” begins with demonstrable adverse health problems caused by pollution, but it does not end there.x  It has advancedx to the critique ofx poorly chosen uses of land, howx the usex affects others over time and the kind of society the uses produce.x  What happens in this section of a growingx Downtown Brooklyn is now one of those questions.x  What quality of society will we produce here?x 

For now, look at it as the collision of two interests, one is private and predictive toward profitable returns and the other is public and prescriptive toward resolving the errors committed in the pursuit of the first interest whether the errors were predicable or not.x  This leeds to expressions of due diligence that prove efforts are made to anticipate damages that are conducted through project approval and evaluation procedures that are capable of constant improvement.x  In this way, living in the world may not be risk free, but the path to it is both predictable and prescribed.x x  To sum up, the community is now like the building in this photo.x 

This photo’s traction for use in articles on the rise of NIMBYism in general has its roots in China.x  I have been unable to source it to a physical location other than the links below- it appears to be Shanghai, but I cannot be certain.x x x Photo sources:x 

Not in My Backyard: China’s Rising Middle Class Growing Environmental Contention.x

Only Seven Years to Develop 22 Acres with 22 Left

The New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Monday March 1, 2009 rejected the final legal challenge by homeowners and businesses to the state’s use of eminent domain for the $4.9 billion, 22-acre Atlantic Yards project (see TimesTopics for more)x  The news triggered a groundbreaking for March 11, 2009.

How much ground will be broken remains unknown to all, even the developer, Bruce Ratner is reportedly unsure.x  One thing is sure, the general failure of effective criticism of the plan.x  Perhaps this was in deference to the disruption of those whose lives and businesses are forever changed.x  Perhaps not. x x Time remains to go on the record regarding the failure of “super blocks and its architecture, or to examine the distracted inability of the MTA and the DOT to address serious public safety questions given the plan as it stands.

The other 22

New York State officials will force the last 22 families and companies to move out of the Atlantic Yards project footprint if they don’t leave voluntarily by April 3, 2010.x  It began with several hundred families and businesses, but Errol Lewis summed it all up best as a reporter for the Daily News and a long time observer of New York’s uniquely imprudent politic.

“The seven-year slog leading up to today’s ribbon-cutting on the Atlantic Yards project demonstrates why New York must rethink and restructure the way it handles big land deals.

Nearly no one on either side of the debate over the planned 18,000-seat arena and 6,400 units of housing – not even the winning developer, Forest City Ratner – thinks the process was fair, balanced and rational.

There were too many lawsuits, too many unanswered questions and too many heated arguments. Worst of all, the years of bickering and delay have left behind bitterness and civic exhaustion just when we need energy, enthusiasm and public scrutiny to make Atlantic Yards a success.â€

I would have readers with an interest in the urban development process in general and in this part of Brooklyn specifically, to notice Errol’s criticism in this way. x The enormously accurate criticisms of the Atlantic Yards plan from an architectural, urban planning and design point of view are ineffective.x  Despite grievous errors of design, the less evident event is the obituary of architectural criticism.

As Lewis points out, the measure of success is tragically blurred and the lessons learned are painfully slow and easily forgotten.x  Our society has the authority to engage in the destruction of one community as a constitutionally guaranteed process for building a new one.

Lewis is right.x  We must question the current criterion that suggests we are actually making a place better or more life affirming or more environmentally sound, not just environmentally neutral.

We are currently limited to writing the postmortem. x Given the desire to correct mistakes before they are made, x what steps could be taken to give a community affected more controls over a design and development process that the law of our land as already deemed inevitable?x  How can the rules of engagement for community development practices eliminate our tragic acceptance of collateral damage?

See Source to Lewis

Ecology Technology (ecotech?)

A long time ago Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan defined sustainability both technologically and ecologically.x  They pointed to the hubris embedded in the technological approachx to the goal of sustainability.x  Technology has proven to be deadly unless it is fully tetheredx in the way David W. Orr recommended in demandingx careful human attention to the absolutx priority of ecological principles.

  • First, people are finite and fallible. The human ability to comprehend and manage scale and complexity has limits. Thinking too big can make our human limitations a liability rather than an asset.
  • Second, a sustainable world can be redesigned and rebuilt only from the bottom up. Locally self-reliant and self-organized communities are the building blocks for change.
  • Third, traditional knowledge that coevolves out of culture and place is a critical asset. It needs to be preserved, restored, and used.
  • Fourth, the true harvest of evolution is encoded in nature’s design. Nature is more than a bank of resources to draw on: it is the best model we have for all the design problems we face.

Technology is zero-sum when placed in a priority higher than these four principles of real change.x  The Urban Design committee is looking for a readings and critiques of Sustainablex America by John Dernbachx (et. al) and theirx position: Sustainable development willx  make the US livable, healthy, secure, and prosperous.

The book runs through 28 areas of human behavior that need to change using 100 actions taken within five to ten years and thematically summarizedx in 10 points as follows:

1.x x  Ecological footprint system integration
2.x x  Greenhouse gas reduction programs
3.x x  Stimulate employment for unskilled persons in environmental protection and restoration
4.x x  Stimulate NGOs to play a major role
5.x x  Organize government initiatives using sustainability principles to prioritize
6.x x  Expand options for sustainable living choices to consumers
7.x x  Advance general public and formal education
8.x x  Strengthen environmental and natural resources law
9.x x  Lead international efforts on behalf of sustainable development
10. Systematically improve access to data for decision making

x It was released January 12, 2009. One can order from Island Press here or Amazon herex  For more information, See the books website site Sustainable Americax  or Dernbach’s website: x x Also see Dernbach’s 2002 book: Stumbling Towards Sustainability.

INWOOD: Just another zoning change…or is it?

The Re-Zoning Sherman Creek and Inwood

The rezoning of the Sherman Creek waterfront and the core area of Inwood began at the behest of the Economic Development Corporation in 2001. Details are found on the EDC website here and on the DCP website. The reasons for this particular initiative may be generalized to three political influences.

First, New York City’s bid for the 2012 Olympic games and beyond stimulated a massive search for “sites”. Failing this, (even though it was a valiant effort) the work retained its second value as a strategy within an overall plan to fulfill the Bloomberg administration’s interest in the production of affordable housing, largely through tax expenditure investments and zoning changes.

Changing the zoning and adding in some bonus floor area minimizes the use of the city’s expense and capital budget to the greatest degree possible. The Japanese call this “minkatsu” to “stimulate the private sector” as a partner.

Third and ultimately, a local interest in wealth creation is satisfied. It is a small but influential group of investors with substantial land holdings in this area that need the boost in land value.

This entire effort will begin to play out in the Fall of 2007 and its effects might begin to show almost immediately, by the time it gets to the City Council 120 ULURP days later.

The area is predominately composed of immigrants of the Dominican Republic who are steeped in family but stilledgy poor.x  The area is also dominated by a high grade stock of art deco architecture perched for the most part on a hill with a median household income that dwarfs that of the residents just below.

This community of the hill and the valley of Inwood is just north and east of the Inwood Hill “wilderness” the last of the original growth of Manhattan and only known home of the Golden Eagle in New York City.

This for example, is just the begininning:

Highbridge Park Trails Grand Opening Festival May 19, 2007 mountainbikes, mountain, bikers, trails Mountain Bikes … years of lobbying and meetings, and a year and a half of actual trail design and … Urban Trailblazers. The New York City Mountain Bikers Meetup Group

First Meeting: Sat, May 19 at 10:00am EDT New York, NY

Columbia’s Manhattanville

Regulatory Taking andx Columbia University

In June 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote upheld the use of eminent domain by the city of New London, CT. (Kelo vs. City of New London) by saying economic development was a public purpose thereby giving government the authority to acquire property, affirming decades of previous litigation on this issue. By the end of 2006 thirty-five states enacted eminent domain restrictions and related reform of “regulatory takingsâ€.x  In that year, three of the four takings measures on state ballots were rejected. Most notable was the way Oregon voters repealed a takings initiative, Measure 37.x  The defeat of California’s Prop 98 in 2007 signaled another setback for advocates of regulatory takings.x x x Often dubbed Kelo-plus and Kelo 3rd Round most of the initiatives seek compensation for lost value due to land-use regulation. To date only one effort in Arizona stimulated by Howard Rich, a New York real estate investor and “libertarian crusader†has succeeded.x x But the bottom line is basic.x  In most cases regulationx can be proven to increase value.x x In February 2008 the New York State Bar Association’sx task force completed its recommendations on thex use of eminent domain.x 

Community organizations throughout the country are raising money and filing proposed ballot initiatives with their state attorney general that prohibit use of eminent domain for transferring property from one private entity to another without added protections. The eminent domain debate in New York should examine its long history of condemnations for economic development.x  In this light and from a strictly legal point of view there are three areas rich with potential litigation including the use of referendum.x  These are the historical uses of eminent domain, the fairness of direct and indirect compensation, and targeting of low-income and minority populations.x  Unlike other states, the one most likely to succeed in New York will involve added protections to residential and business tenants in reassessing just compensation issues.

Would pursuing the “tenant†protection component yield valuable community economic development objectives?x  Hard to say, but both sides might be more recognizablex to the average research effort byx viewing:  This site helps to define hairline legal differences between “regulatory taking” and “eminent domain†in the proposed reforms of Oregon’s Measure 37.x  In this particular case, government becomes liable for attorney fees if court award is greater than initial government offer.x 

Headline: “Citizens call for reform of the reform.” Timothy Sandefur, Author of “Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America†www.instituteforjustice.orgx x …

This site has links to, Howard Rich is a board member (Cato).x  He likes how the term “property rights” strikes a cord among voters.x  They also have a hot selling t-shirt that reads, “blight meâ€. It all seems exquisitely hypocritical, but why?

Given the historically poor performance of government in protecting individuals in the short term for vague long term benefits, the public’s opinion can easily be brought to define Kelo as a decision that betrays them –x the small businessperson and working class residents, as well as, weakenx legitimate efforts to erase racially imposed economic disparities.x x  But, the dissent of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is probably best overall.

“Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner. . . . Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory. . . . The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”

How Does this “big picture” Policy Fit Manhattanville?
What does it do to the design of a place?

How about seeing INTERNATIONAL HOUSE as an example (as outside chance)? Located at 500 Riverside Drive, 122nd Street) New York, NY 10027 x This is a stretch,x but Columbia offers a very nice “extra-large” apartment with private bathroom at $12,090/month and other less luxurious accommodations to full-time graduate students.x  They arex available only during thex academic year; undergraduates are welcome in the summer.x  Applications are requiredx if stays of 30 days or more are intended. x 

Columbia isx extending housingx privledges in orderx to acquire social capital within a tuition business.x  So, here is the thing, Barbara and Howard Rich are among many large real estate holders who are supporters of university sponsored Fulbright Scholarships and the programmed-education with housing market in New York City. Almost every university in New York City is a sponsor of this program as it brings in paying clients (students of all ages) to the fold. Via: .x  Suprise!x  This is a max hit zone is for housing such as the above. For Players

Is there anyother way to look at the this? There must be a way…

APA Metro Prepares Testimony on Manhattanville zoningx 
or go straight to the CPC DEISx for some real fun reading…

Seex “group discussion” linkx under FirmsBack to: Community Designx  or Urban Design