There are many things wrong about the new East Midtown zoning, which, according to the editorial in today’s New York Times is about to be approved by the City Council. One of the worst features is that air rights transfers will be, no questions asked, automatically approved. Thus ever-more monstrously scaled buildings will be rubber-stamped.

Despite the closeness of the Times to the real real estate establishment, I am shocked that the paper is endorsing what is so clearly a hustle. In a city run by developers and landlords, we need a newspaper of record to protect the municipal interest.  When Bloomberg tried to ram through an even more blatant edition of the scam four years ago, the paper opposed it. At that time they flagged as worth preserving the human scale still manifest in much of East Midtown.

We’ll now see how long that lasts.

How could anyone look at Fifty-seventh Street and not understand how damaging Bloomberg’s assault on the cityscape and his exploitation of the air-rights fandango has been?

Today’s Times editorial does raise a few questions concerning the excessive amount of discretionary power that will be vested in developers: they get to decide what civic improvements they will be responsible for in return for the air-rights windfall they’ll reap.

As Peter Moscowitz notes in How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, “With little federal funding for housing, transportation, or anything else, American cities are now forced to rely on their tax base to pay for basic services.”

The fact that de Blasio has endorsed this demonstrates the way that the  city is still working under the false-paradigm that establishes real-estate taxes as almost the primary source of municipal revenue.  Making corporations pay their fair share would be much more beneficial.

De Blasio’s proposal to tax high-earners to subsidize badly-needed mass transit upgrades is also a step in the right direction.

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