Statement From The Two Bridges Neighborhood Council:
South Street Seaport Public Forum (11/10/14)
Is it possible that the historic and irreplaceable South Street Seaport is still a landmark preservation issue? Is it possible, in spite of preservation efforts extending over what seems an endless 40 year period; in spite of copious, yet still unresolved preservation visions and plans, all laudably meant to guarantee its permanence in the annals of American and New York City’s celebrated story, but just “how” still an issue yet unresolved. Could the future of the South Street Seaport district, after all of that, still be a question?
Might we be actually witnessing what is now an historic district precariously poised to become part of New York’s extinct history?
Could we actually find comfort and justification to destroy it, or alter it or compromise the integrity of its history, all because we conveniently prefer to subscribe to that often stated, if inane, belief that, because New York City is a perpetually changing skyscape –we can sacrifice and obliterate its history at the expense of what is too often nobly described as inevitable “progress”. Or has that belief not really been, in many cases, a veiled defense of a developer’s future prospects at the expense of preserving history. Is not New York City usually the exporter of innovate commerce and business ideas? Or do we really need to adapt to ideas that come from Arizona, California or Texas?
Are elected officials here tonight acting as arbiters of the future of this historic district, thinking that they have to “balance” competing interests, or will they serve and act accordingly as attentive listeners to a community of preservationists, residents, community leaders and local business owners resolved in their united appeals to declare, once and for all, that the South Street Seaport district is an off-limits public resource? It is not a Disney backdrop meant to enhance a development project, but a precious resource that a development project must serve to enhance, which in this case, the tremendous value of the seaport’s existing public resources, including berthings and moorings for historic vessels; a catalogue of eighteenth and nineteenth century architecture; and the historic Fulton Fish Market, both the 1939 New Market Building and the 1907 Tin Building.
Two Bridges is here tonight as a 60 year old Lower East Side organization that built an entire urban renewal district along the East River waterfront with affordable housing. We are also preservationists in the sense that we have been the sole sponsors of the Two Bridges Historic District, The Chinatown Little Italy Historic District and the Bowery Historic District. These preservation efforts were more motivated by the lamentable loss of so many historic buildings through solely developer-driven initiatives, which the only evidence of the once grand histories of these historic buildings can now be accessed solely through historical pictorial reference books and documents.
We are not here tonight to only support another community’s vision of the Seaport and by extension the East River Waterfront. Rather, we are here to appeal to the Lower Manhattan community, to our elected officials and to the preservationist community that the South Street Seaport is, if anything, a resource that also belongs to the Lower East Side. The Seaport belongs as much to the Lower East Side as it does to the Financial District; the waterfront does not stop at the Brooklyn Bridge.
In that vein we ask: Have not the visions of the past 40 years with regard to the South Street Seaport District been rather parochial? Have they been so insular and so proprietary as to be entirely exclusive of the fact that the East River waterfront, not just the East River and the aesthetic sense of continuity of the esplanade, but that the East River waterfront, north of the Brooklyn Bridges is also integral to the history of the South Street Seaport District; is part of the history you wish to preserve and without which would be deficient of correct historical content if it were to exclude the mercantile, shipping and immigrant history of the Lower East Side.
We are here to declare our ownership as well of this question of the South Street Seaport. Our South Street Initiative, a dialogue of waterfront residents, property owners and other stakeholders invite you to a wider vision, a third alternative vision, if you will, of what has been the subject of numerous planning studies to transform the area into a vibrant space that would connect diverse neighboring communities and offer opportunities for recreational, social, educational and cultural engagement for New Yorkers and visitors alike. Yet, the area remains underdeveloped and underutilized a result of overlapping and uncoordinated plans coupled with a lack of clear stewardship and unity. This South Street initiative proposes to synthesize these various proposals into a comprehensive and feasible master plan as well as conduct an economic impact study that demonstrates the potential of its implementation. The South Street Initiative, for which Two Bridges merely serves to be a catalyst, proposes to break the deadlock, to expand the vision, and to address inequities of resources.
We are resolved to become actors, no longer passive observers, in the final resolution that guarantees the entire East River waterfront, including the preservation of South Street Seaport. This includes a call for the urgent need to implement storm resiliency measures and address climate change along with development pressure in the area, Underlying Two Bridge’s proposal is the conviction that a synchronized and implementable plan developed in concert with all stakeholder groups, north and south of the Brooklyn Bridge, will produce a far greater end result than individual, and often contradictory, efforts.
The following statement was presented at the South Street Seaport Public Forum on Monday, November 10, 2014. The event was hosted by Save our Seaport, the City Club of New York, and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance at the Spruce Street School Auditorium (12 Spruce Street, New York City).
Downtown Express: How the Lower East Side can help save The Seaport