P.S. 109: Tip of Bloomberg's Plan 2030 Iceberg

City Hall's Plan 2030, which features the conversion of PS 109 into supposed "artists live/work space", creates the wide context in which the struggle to save P.S. 109 takes place. It is actually a tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is forever lecturing about how he wants a "greener" New York. Apparently "green" in this billionaire's usage is the color of money.

The Plan 2030 is an envisionment of restructuring New York as a Metropolis of the rich and super-rich, with the poor and middle class pushed out, something that has been happening for decades now, and which may be called the Koch Plan, going back to the former mayor who felt that New York and particularly Manhattan was just too magnificent for average people, and issued wisecracks to that effect on many occasions.

Plan 2030 is being implemented on the sneak. Very few people have heard of it at all, and even those have heard only the most superficial reportage. Only a tiny, narrow circle of high-finance maneuverers have any input.

Everywhere you look in NYC, you see the cranes, derricks and wrecking balls. It is like a city being bombed to soften it up for an invasion. Everything is being leveled. except income distributions which are becoming more and more polarized.

P.S. 109, while important in its own right, is also a perhaps crucial test in the struggle against dangerous plutocratic daydreams and nightmares that are a threat to the very survival of our communitiP

We are being treated like boiled frogs. The frog does not feel the gradual and incremental rise of the water's temperature. "Before it knows it," the water is boiling.

The struggle to save P.S. 109 can make people aware of the cooks' plans, and force a U-turn in the governance of the city, if successful.

The following is an excert from the City Hall-published online brochure advertising and promoting Plan 2030. (See http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/downloads/pdf/report_housing.pdf , and turn to page 10.)

Bloomberg's Fantasy The Facts
Adapt outdated buildings to new uses

We will seek to adapt unused schools, hospitals, and other outdated municipal sites for productive use as new housing.

Manipulation begins right in the very headline: The brainwashing headline is designed to control the psychology of the reader. The targeted buildings, including schools and hospitals are pre-labelled as "outdated". This implies that these structures are not as good as what is builtu today, and that their function is inferior to the new "uses". We are supposed to think that old uses, like healthcare and education are outmoded, and therefore ready to accept any proposal, even if the old use is no longer performed. Hospitals and schools have gone from overcrowded or empty, not because there is less injury or disease, but because a large number are too medically indigent to afford needed treatment. Schools are called underuntilized, even though gyms, music rooms, science labs and other cluster spaces are paved over with home-room seats, so that the seat ratio statistic can be manipulated to deny gross inadequacy.
Across the city, dozens of sites are no longer appropriate for their original intended use; but can be reclaimed for a new purpose. Whether it is redeveloping abandoned warehouses or transforming closed hospitals—like the landmarked Sea View nurses’ residence that will become a new housing project for seniors—we can preserve some of our most beautiful buildings while meeting the city’s most critical housing needs. Who decides that a cite is no longer appropriate for intended use? Apparently, those who intend to turn away from the oriniginal use. The reclaiming seems to be mainly for real estate profits. Bloomberg apparently means that the regular people, due to a hemorrhage of exportation and outright elimination of jobs, that the people no longer serve their original use, generally as underpaid employees for the profit of their ex-employers, and that the government will no longer service us and wants us out of "magnificent Manhattan". Notice the equation of closing a hospital, the actual example, converting warehouses abondoned for greater real estate profitability!
As we move ahead over the next two decades, we must continue searching for other opportunities in underused schools, hospitals, and office buildings. Where appropriate we will partner with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to save this irreplaceable architecture and restore its place as an integral part of our evolving city. We can also rethink these buildings to meet some of our city’s unique needs; P.S. 109 is currently being converted into artists’ housing and studios. By working with HPD and the Department of Cultural Affairs to open new affordable spaces for artists, we can not only preserve our physical city but also its essential creative spirit. (See case study: Re-imagining P.S. 109) Defeatism is spread to the public, as current Mayor Bloomberg acts as a pharaoh who assumes he will still somehow be mayor behind the scenes for another 22 years! The program may preserve some structures for their irreplaceable architecture, but convert it into real estate, separated from the needed function to which its architecture was irreplaceably designed. The case in point is P.S. 109, which he vows will be converted to privileged artists' housing. Regular, average community people will be forced out, for growing lack of school space for the kids.
CaseStudyRe-imagining P.S. 109 Re-imagining it, as ANYTHING BUT a school!
The castle-like P.S. 109 once housed elementary school children from around its East Harlem neighborhood. In 1996, when the Department of Education witnessed a decline in the area’s school-age population they closed the school, slating it for demolition three years later. Just as in the current Plan 2030, the school was dishonestly declared underutilized as part of corrupt deal, in which the land would be freed for real estate profiteering. As the School Construction Authority actually began the demolition it lobbied for, priceless and today unreplicatable building decorations and art artifacts, were given for resale to a salvage dealer, Evan Blum, who was tipped off to their availability.
That’s when East Harlem community groups stepped in, seeking to preserve the historic structure, with its slotted roofs and gargoyles intact. They won; and demolition plans were dropped. It was Gwen Goodwin and the Coalition to Save P.S. 109 that she formed, which alone opposed the demolition. The demolition was approved by the Community Board, which could not have happened without the approval of locally-based elected officials. It was despite the polical community honchos that the demolition was halted. No one outside the Coalition to Save P.S. 109 lifted a finger, and that remains the case to this day. Even some like Community Education Council 4, who have passed resolutions in favor of restoring the school, act as if they are afraid of a confrontation, let alone a fight, with the local political establishment, let alone City Hall.
But in the years following the decision, P.S. 109 sat abandoned. Surrounding school districts were only at 74% capacity; another school was not needed. That’s when Artspace, a Minneapolis-based developer of art housing, and El Barrio’s Operation Fightback, a community and housing advocacy organization in East Harlem, approached the City. They asked for the chance to turn the building into affordable housing for neighborhood artists. This 74% figure is a statistically artificial and dishonest subterfuge. It is insane to suggest that East Harlem has more than enough schools. Also, officials admit that there is a citywide shortage of school space that could be relieved somewhat by keeping P.S. 109, rather than shutting it and other schools. An old saying is that "figures don't lie, but liars do figure." This statistic is based on the "Blue Book" methodology, which is concocted to deny school overcrowding, and is combined with the elimination of cluster space, like art studios, music rooms, science labs and gyms, converting them to ordinary classrooms, to achieve an artificial statistic that shows that "there are more than enough seats". Even so, overcrowding remains desperate, if we are to believe the pupils, parents, teachers and principals systematically canvassed in the landmark survey by the East Harlem Committee to Improve Our Public Schools, Coordinated by Rev. Norman Eddy.

Operation Fightback has been discredited even before the Artspace scandal, the suggestion for which was originally hatched in Allen Hevesi's office, where Operation Fightback's Gus Rosato's brother Felix was entrenched. It is still a mystery who contacted Artspace, a major real estate developer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Some people might be confused by the word "affordable", as an exception to sky-rocketing market rates. Affordability is based on Area Median Income, the area being the bulk of Manhattan, whose associated figure is $62,000 per year. Buried in that "average" is East Harlem, with its income in the low $20 thousands.

Whatever rents are to be kept "affordable", moreover, will be necessarily based on subsidization. Since Artspace denies that any units in the envisioned collective will be at market rate, the taxpayers will fill the gap.
Artspace and Operation Fightback are now on their way to converting P.S. 109 into 64 combined living and studio art spaces as part of a $28.8 million renovation project. In fact, so far Artspace has passed its deadlines of December 2006 and extensions into 2007. Nevertheless, the Education Department holds the building in reserve, seemingly indefinitely. The building is still lying idle. The $28 million figure excedes the cost of resoring PS 109 as a school. The conversion to artist housing presents additional expense problems. Just think of the plumbing involved in installing a three-piece bathroom and a functioning kitchen sink in each of the 64 "apartments". Cost overruns are again expected to be foisted on the taxpayer, to be kept in the dark until after the momentum seems irreversible.

What seems outrageously to violate every law and principle against corruption, the P.S. 109 building is being given away for a nominal dollar's consideration, to private interests, such as Artspace and its recruits. This building is owned by the public. The officials giving it away are only supposed to be public employees and administrators. Giving them the power to give away the property in their charge obviously opens the door to unbridled corruption and outright thievery. If the building is to be taken out of the financially strapped public domain, why is it not at least sold at auction?
The entire building will be affordable and residents from the East Harlem community, including local artists, will be given preference for 50% of the buildings units. Again, affordability will be calculated on a standard Area Median Income standard which is about three times the local, East Harlem median income, wildly out of touch to say the least. If the area from which the prospects will be given preference is the same area as that of the AMI computations, then the preferences will go all over affluent Manhattan, and East Harlem/El Barrio will witness an addition to the gentrifying population already in rapid influx, no doubt to the delight of NYC's chief yuppie, the billionaire mayor. And this vague local preference only extends to 50%! The other 50% can come from Scarsdale, Minneapolis, or Japan.
“The building wasn’t being utilized, and now we’re keeping it as a community center,” said Gus Rosado, executive director of El Barrio’s Operation Fightback. What is here not mentioned is that the building was taken out of use to benefit those who hope to use their position and authority as a means for corrupt acquisition of valuable real estate.
Plans include a public space for arts education, and a gallery on the first floor. These inticements are additional money-making opportunities to those chosen to benefit from the project, at the expense of the average taxpayer.
“Real estate values in the area are going through the roof, and artists are getting squeezed out—they’re the first to go, because they can’t find space to practice their craft,” Rosado said. “This gives them that opportunity, and it’s affordable.” Here again, the words of philanthropy come from the mouths of those trying to cash in on the real estate values in the area going through the roof. This suggests the real motivation for the attempt to engineer a public giveaway to private interests, who may be earning the title of "Culture Vultures".