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Landmark Problems
December 1st, 2008

Looking for an upside to the recession? (No snide comments abut hedge fund managers, please.) The current downturn could be good for the city’s architectural heritage, according to Julia Vitullo-Martin, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute (and
contributor
to Gotham Gazette). “The pause in New York City’s building boom … gives everyone a chance to think,” she wrote in the Post over the weekend. “This is the time to think about the importance of old buildings in New York’s urban fabric – and how to preserve those worth keeping.” (An accompanying slide show describes 10 endangered buildings.)

A series on the Landmarks Preservation Commission by Robin Pogrebin in the Times, though, casts doubt about whether the administration has any inclination to seize the moment. Headed by Robert Tierney, who the Times said “has no background in architecture, planning or historic preservation,” the agency is slow to act, “its decision-making is often opaque, and its record-keeping on landmark-designation requests is so spotty that staff members are uncertain how many it rejects in a given year.”

Pogrebin reports that, while the landmarks commission waits to act, developers obtain permits from the city Buildings Department — the two apparently do not speak to each other — to destroy the very detail that might qualify a building for landmarking. By the time the issue gets to landmarks it’s too late to save the now-mutilated structure.

“Pogrebin provides multiple examples of how Tierney’s evident, if well camouflaged, hostility to the cause of preservation is creating a culture of sneaking and lying and deceit and, for all we know, double-dealing,” the Clyde Fitch Report said.

Despite that kind of information, so far Pogrebin has not done much to connect the dots. As the Noticing New York blog wrote after the first two articles, “Remarkably, neither article mentions the influence of the city office of the mayor in relation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and neither article mentions the particular influence of the current mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.”

If two city departments do not talk to each other — and if the landmarks commissioner appointed by the mayor has no visible qualifications for his jobs — might the commission’s dillydallying reflect some larger policy agenda at City Hall?

Lost City has one suggestion for what Bloomberg could do: “Robert B. Tierney, the landmarks mommissioner — who declined a budget increase in 2007 of $750,000 approved by the City Council, and earns an annual city salary of $177,698 for his crimes — must be removed. … If ever a man did not understand the nature or importance of his job, it’s he.”

A comment on Curbed said that is not enough: “The commission needs ALL new people. … The commissioners are in the pockets of the developers and the mayor.”

The problem may extend far beyond the commission’s offices. In one the few comments in the Times series to hint at this, Anthony C. Wood, author of “Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks,” told Pogrebin, “This administration is so excited about the new that it overlooks its obligation to protect the old.”

By on December 1, 2008, 5:40 pm
In category: Arts,Gotham City,Land Use | 5 Comments »

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5 Responses to “Landmark Problems”

  1. Leonard Jacobs Says:
    December 2nd, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    My reading of Robin’s series is that she’s done quite a bit to imply connections of those dots, which is, I admit, different from actually connecting them. I think the Times’ attitude is to let the public draw their own conclusions, which it inevitably will.

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