A Friend and Comrade of the Late Architect Recalls Battles Waged on Behalf of the Community
Author, architect, critic, and scholar, Michael Sorkin: “Tribeca – and its surrounding neighborhoods — are among the most ‘at risk’ for the loss of an architecture and an aura that is unique not just in New York, but in the world. To fail to protect this brilliant and beloved environment is nothing less than vandalism.”
Tribeca resident, professor, architect, and critic Michael Sorkin died on March 26 from the coronavirus. You might have seen the tributes pouring in from the architectural world. A chorus of accolades attested to Michael’s astonishing career and accomplishments, among them authoring 18 highly regarded books, being awarded multiple prizes and fellowships, writing criticism for the Village Voice, The Nation, and founding Terreform, a non-profit that published books on urban research.
Unbeknownst to many, Michael was also our neighbor and a fellow comrade-in-arms for Tribeca’s historic districts. I first met him when he moved to the corner of Chambers and Broadway in Tribeca, from Greenwich Village (where he documented his walk to work in the wonderful book of essays, “Twenty Minutes in Manhattan”).
On hearing our story, he willingly lent his authority to the cause of preservation in Tribeca. He did so at a time when many architects ran away from preservation: Mayor Bill de Blasio had made it seem that preservation was at odds with housing, a notion Michael thought ridiculous. He quickly agreed to host our first fundraising event at the Tribeca Grand Hotel, where we screened the film, “The Human Scale,” about the Danish Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehls.
Michael had our sold-out crowd laughing in no time. Later, he came arm-in-arm with me to a meeting with the chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to push the cause of Tribeca’s historic district expansion. There, Michael amiably tolerated the bowing and scraping that the staff gave to him, and without any preparation he eloquently ad-libbed our case, leaving the rest of us figuring we’d won the day. When that turned out not to be true, when our posse was treated contemptuously by the Chair, we left the building both furious and despondent. Michael cheerfully seized my arm and said: “The only thing to do now is write. Get cracking.” Sure enough, less than a month later, there was his new column on gentrification and preservation in The Nation that featured our meeting.
Lynn Ellsworth: “Michael was our neighbor and a fellow comrade-in-arms for Tribeca’s historic districts. His urbanist writings are what made his renown. And the generosity with which he used that renown to lend a hand everywhere gave courage to all on the front lines.”
His emails were always full of good cheer and urgings on, which I have no doubt he did for his vast network of allies, friends and students. “Must crush these density absolutists!” he would write, or he’d sign off emails with the old Che Guevara salute “Hasta la victoria siempre!” Or sometimes, when there was something to be done, he’d say, “Standing by!” When discussing the idea of a new kind of democratic, neighborhood improvement district, he wrote “All in favor of the Tribeca Soviet! Let’s booze and schmooze!”
In our eventual court case against the LPC, Tribeca Trust produced a slide show that compared photos of buildings inside our historic districts with other buildings just outside those boundaries. Michael took one look and offered up an affidavit in support of our cause, again without the slightest hesitation. He wrote: “the uncanny ‘separated-at-birth’ quality of the paired presentations of comparable buildings is — in each and every instance — completely persuasive to me and an entirely compelling argument for the expansion of the district.” Other architects around the City, even those on our board, were terrified of fighting the LPC and would have nothing to do with the lawsuit. But Michael Sorkin was unafraid. In that affidavit for the courts he also wrote:
“I can state that Tribeca – and its surrounding neighborhoods — are among the most ‘at risk’ for the loss of an architecture and an aura that is unique not just in New York, but in the world. This singular neighborhood is irreplaceable and can — because of the very specificity of its historic origins — never be recuperated if lost. To fail to protect this brilliant and beloved environment is nothing less than vandalism.”
Portrait of the Architect as a Young Man: Michael Sorkin (1948 – 2020)
He went on to criticize LPC:
“In a number of instances, the buildings that lie outside of the district are superior to those within. I cannot stress enough the way in which the document I’ve reviewed establishes what would appear to be a completely arbitrary policy of valuation that preserves one building by an important architect but excludes another of identical — or better — quality…. The current district [does] not simply impose these entirely whimsical distinctions in setting its boundaries but also ignores what should be a primary motive and rationale of such a place: a sense of historic continuity and ensemble…. Tribeca and downtown are rapidly losing not simply buildings of individual importance but the remnant textures of its variegated earlier scales. Indeed, these neighborhoods are consequential as a near-miraculous collection of both styles and scales, reflecting a mosaic of urban paradigms and practices that found different modes of coherence from the earliest nineteenth century to the middle of the 20th. I strongly urge this Court to act to direct the LPC to reverse its decision of last June, and to, instead, come up with a set of guidelines to facilitate a reasoned decision on the Trust’s application.”
Michael was eloquent about just about everything. His urbanist writings in the Jane Jacobs tradition are what made his renown. And the generosity with which he used that renown to lend a hand everywhere gave courage to all on the front lines, myself included. There was the fight over air-rights transfers at St. John’s Terminal. Michael wrote scathingly about it in a now-famous column in The Nation that took on the lack of regulation of air rights transfers more generally. He came with me and others to testify at the City Planning Commission against over-scaled development in Harlem. He used his wit to write about the need for homeless shelters, about bad zoning, and about real estate corruption. With Michael Sorkin’s death, we Tribecans and New Yorkers have truly lost a great ally. He was a brilliant intellectual force that combined erudition, wit, and humor — all, dedicated to his keen sense of justice. He will not be forgotten. Until victory, always, Michael.
By Lynn Ellsworth
(Editor’s Note: Ms. Ellsworth, a leading Downtown activist on preservation issues, is the chairperson and co-founder of the Tribeca Trust, the founder of Friends of Duane Park, and the president of Human-Scale NYC.)
To the editor:
A disturbing report showed that runners shed the coronavirus over 40 feet spraying it in every direction. It is disturbing that every park is closed and the only place the elderly can walk to get some air is esplanade. The esplanade is filled day and night with young runners sweating without shirts running in parallel. There is absolutely no way to social distance,
For the life of me even pre virus, I never understood why bikes were allowed to speed on the south BPC esplanade with the entire West Side Highway a bike path.
It is incredibly dangerous for the children playing and elderly. Now with the pandemic and the only place where senior can walk seems to be the perfect time to stop this danger!
In every other shut down state due to the danger of runners shedding the virus, they have been stopped. It is so incredibly arrogant and selfish but there is no police or BPC enforcement.
While the playgrounds, dog parks, and sports fields are closed for now, Hudson River Park remains open to those who are looking for some space, greenery and open skies.
The Park is experiencing a record-early spring bloom including cherry blossoms, magnolias, tulips, daffodils and more. You can explore this vibrant display from home with our Bloom Guide and Spring Gallery. Photos of the Park’s plants unfurling in color have brought some brightness to our days during this sad and stressful time, and I hope they do the same for you.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and rest assured that Hudson River Park will be there to welcome you back soon.
Connie Fishman , Executive Director
To the editor:
I’m curious if the BPCA is going to implement any programs to support local small businesses.
For example, giving landlords a break in ground leases if savings are passed on to small business tenants as rent discounts? As a state agency I would hope they are at least considering steps that can be taken to support local businesses.
As business activity ground to a halt in March due to the pandemic coronavirus, the market for apartments in Lower Manhattan experienced something akin to a heart attack during the first quarter on this year, according to analyses from two real estate data firms.
A pair of reports from Platinum Properties, a brokerage firm headquartered in the Financial District, documents the carnage in Battery Park City and the Financial District. The first notes that the median price for condominiums sold in Battery Park City dropped from $1.515 million in the first quarter of 2019 to $1.005 million in the same period this year. That represents a 33.7 percent decline in 12 months, and a 14 percent decline just since the last quarter of 2019, when the median price was $1.168 million. To read more…
Doing Good, Even When Not Doing Well
A Local Business Struggles to Survive, By Helping Those Less Fortunate
In happier times: Karen Barwick (right) and her staff, at Tribeca’s Boomerang Toys
Karen Barwick, the proprietress of Boomerang Toys in Tribeca, which has been a fixture in the lives of generations of Lower Manhattan kids, is leading a push to bring a smile to the faces of homeless children, who are quarantined in shelters, while also helping small businesses.
“We have teamed up with several other neighborhood toy stores that are struggling, because of being locked down,” she explains, “and partnered with Homeless Services United” (HSU) — a coalition of nearly sixty non-profit agencies serving homeless families. By browsing www.BoomerangToys.com, and clicking on the Donate button, users can purchase a toy that will be delivered to a shelter by the HSU’S existing distribution network, which already parcels out clothing and food. To read more…
how to care for your pet during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated Pandemic Statistics
City Releases Data about Local Rates of Infection
Lower Manhattan’s eight zip codes are the site of 402 confirmed cases of coronavirus, up from 309 cases on April 2, which represents an increase of approximately 30 percent.
A total of 402 residents of Lower Manhattan (among 973 who have been tested) are confirmed to have been infected by the pandemic coronavirus, according to statistics released by the City’s Department of Health (DOH). The current local mortality rate for COVID-19 is approximately 5.8 percent. To read more…
Federal Legislator Backs Proposal to Extend September 11 Safeguards to Coronavirus
A screen shot from Monday evening’s online meeting of the Downtown Independent Democrats political club (to which all participants linked remotely, via the Internet, from their homes), during which Lower Manhattan community leader Justine Cuccia (upper right) proposed to United States Congressman (center) that federal programs aiding September 11 first responders and survivors be expanded to cover the pandemic coronavirus
United States Congressman Jerry Nadler has endorsed a proposal by a Lower Manhattan community leader to expand the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) September 11th Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) to cover illness and death from the pandemic coronavirus among the populations of first responders and survivors whose health was impacted by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
An an online meeting of the Downtown Independent Democrats political club on Monday evening, Mr. Nadler was asked by Justine Cuccia, a co-founder of the grassroots organization, Democracy for Battery Park City, whether he would, “support an expansion of the Health Program and the VCF to cover COVID-19, because the survivor population are among those who are at heightened risk of complications from this disease?” To read more…
Resilience, in the Original Sense of the Word
Facing Adversity, One Community Leader Tries to Lead By Example
In the days following September 11, 2001, Bob Townley called the community together at the basketball court at the intersection of Canal Street and Avenue of the Americas.
Bob Townley, the founder and executive director of Manhattan Youth, reflects, “I’ve been through this before — twice, actually.” He is referring to a pair of previous cataclysms that seemed to threaten the viability of the Lower Manhattan community he serves, as well as the organization he leads.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the inundation of Hurricane Sandy, 11 years later, both wrecked the neighborhood. And both raised questions about whether Manhattan Youth, which provides services to thousands of school children, families, and seniors, could remain viable. So the ongoing crisis related to the pandemic coronavirus is not without precedent for him.
“In the fall of 2001,” he recalls, “pieces of the World Trade Center were in a pool on Rector Place, where we had been giving toddlers swimming lessons a few days before. And when I finally got back into our Downtown Community Center in November, 2012, we had 20 feet of water in the basement. The entire bottom level, and a second story below the street, were both submerged.”
New Amsterdam Market returns in virtual format, as a service to the growing community of purveyors, distributors, producers and other small businesses who are creating regional, sustainable, regenerative, healthful, and equitable food systems.
A pair of peregrin falcons are back in Lower Manhattan, high above 55 Water Street. Click to watch a live camera as they care for their clutch of eggs that are expected to hatch in the coming weeks.
Virtual Events Available to All
Developing Stories: Native Photographers in the Field
National Museum of the American Indian
Developing Stories: Native Photographers in the Field is a pair of sequential photo essays created by Native photojournalists Russel Albert Daniels and Tailyr Irvine in collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian. The work of both photographers springs from the same desires—to break down stereotypes of Native peoples and to portray stories that show the diversity and complexity of their contemporary lives.
While the installation of the first photo essay by Daniels — The Genízaro People of Abiquiú — is postponed due to coronavirus, the photo essay is online.
Celebrate Endangered Species Day (May 15) and the 50th anniversary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by participating in the Greater Atlantic Region’s Marine Endangered Species Art Contest.
Endangered and threatened species need our help. Students’ artwork will showcase their knowledge and commitment to protecting these animals. Throughout 2020, NOAA is celebrating 50 years of science, service, and stewardship. NOAA is a world-class forecasting and resource management agency with a reach that goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor. In the next 50 years, NOAA will advance innovative research and technology, answer tough scientific questions, explored the unexplored, inspire new approaches to conservation, and power the U.S. economy. Through April 24
This documentary series explores the shared commitment to the mission behind the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. From showing how we create new traditions of tribute, to demonstrating our unique conservation techniques, the short films go beyond the surface to immerse viewers in untold stories of honor and remembrance. Click here to view the series.
Today through April 30
The Stories They Tell
9/11 Memorial and Museum
Family members, survivors, first responders and recovery workers discuss the 9/11 history they are helping to preserve through the material they have shared with the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Click here.
Offerings include morning warmup/stretching/conditioning exercises, mid-day classes in contemporary dance with afro, ballet and jazz fusion elements, evening classes in varied ballroom styles, plus a daily short video at 4pm by dancers performing in their living rooms.
Today through April 30
Tourist in Your Own Town Videos
The New York Landmarks Conservancy
Now that most of us are staying home, you can take virtual tours of New York City.Visit Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, Alexander Hamilton’s home in Upper Manhattan, the Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan, the site of the Battle of Brooklyn, the home of one of America’s first female photographers on Staten Island, and Louis Armstrong’s home in Queens. There are 61 sites in all. You’ll be amazed at the discoveries you will make.
Downtown Food Festival Supports Local Restaurants by Feeding Healthcare Workers
The ever-popular Taste of Tribeca food festival has been cancelled for this year, but the organizers are rallying support to help the now-struggling restaurants that have contributed food for decades, by purchasing meals to donate to hospital workers.
Starting today, up to 100 free meals will be arriving daily at local healthcare facilities, prepared by half a dozen Lower Manhattan restaurants, and paid for with contributions solicited by the Downtown parents who organize the Taste of Tribeca food festival.
For the past 25 years, that event has accepted food contributed by dozens of eateries, and sold these “tastes” at a street fair, to raise money for two beloved local public schools: P.S. 234 and P.S. 150. Earlier this month, however, mounting concerns about the pandemic coronavirus forced the first-ever cancellation of the event.
Biking through traffic seven years ago at lunch hour in downtown Manhattan compared to the dearth of people and traffic after the Corona virus epidemic is a huge contrast. Footage is sped up, so although it may look a but scary, the ride was totally safe!
Thanks and be well! -Esther R.
Where to Get Care
Lower Manhattan Health Resources for Residents with Concerns
Government officials are asking that people with non-urgent health problems avoid showing up at hospital emergency rooms, which are already overburdened.
Instead, they ask that patients who have concerns consult with their personal physicians. Those in need of non-emergency medical help can also call (or walk into) one of the five Lower Manhattan urgent care clinics that remain open. As of Thursday afternoon, these are:
• CityMD Financial District (24 Broad Street). No appointment necessary. 646-647-1259.
• CityMD Fulton (138 Fulton Street). No appointment necessary. 212-271-4896.
• CityMD Tribeca (87 Chambers Street). No appointment necessary. 347-745-8321.
• NYU Langone at Trinity (111 Broadway). Appointment required. 212-263-9700.
• Mount Sinai Doctors (225 Greenwich Street, fifth floor). No appointment necessary. 212-298-2720.
That noted, anyone experiencing dangerous symptoms (such as trouble breathing or dangerous spikes in body temperature) is encouraged to go to a hospital emergency room.
Two Lower Manhattan healthcare providers are also offering Virtual Visits, in which patients can consult over the phone or video link with a physician or nurse practitioner.
To schedule such a session with NYU Langone, please browse: NYULangone.org, and click on Virtual Urgent Care.
To make an appointment with New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, please browse NYP.org, and click on Virtual Urgent Care.
Patients enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program are advised not to cancel or reschedule existing appointments. Clinic staff will be contacting you to make arrangements to convert these sessions into a tele-visits.
All program participants with prescriptions for their certified WTC-related conditions are strongly encouraged to sign up for Optum Home Delivery which allows for 90-day prescription fills and delivers directly to members by mail.
For more information, please call Optum at 855-640–0005, Option 2. For members who prefer to pick up prescriptions at retail pharmacies, the program is waiving early medication refill limits on 30-day prescription maintenance medications. Please call Optum at 855-640–0005, Option 3 for more information.
The World Trade Center Health Program is also covering limited COVID-19 testing for members with certain certified World Trade Center-related conditions that may put them at higher risk of illness from COVID-19. In addition to testing, treatment for COVID-19 is also covered, contingent on certain criteria being met, including that the member was eligible for COVID-19 testing, the treatment is authorized by the program, and the treatment is not experimental. Coverage of COVID-19 treatment costs requires approval by the program’s administrator, on a case-by-case basis.
Meditations in an Emergency
Our Hometown and the Myth of Eternal Return
You tell yourself that you’ve seen this story before, and more than once: edifices falling; waters rising. And you reflect that the worst situations are not those that can’t get any worse. The worst situations are the ones that are going to get worse before they get better. So you hunker down.
You recall the Old Man deciding, a lifetime ago, that since you were too old for fairy tales, you were perhaps old enough for true confessions. To read more…
Son of a notary and a peasant woman, Leonardo was born in the village of Vinci near Florence. A polymath during the Renaissance, he’s most well-known for his paintings, The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Only about 15 paintings are known to survive.
1783 – Preliminary articles of peace ending the American Revolutionary War are ratified
1817 – Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc founded the American School for the Deaf, the first American school for deaf students, in Hartford, Connecticut
1865 – President Abraham Lincoln dies after being shot the previous evening by actor John Wilkes Booth. Vice President Andrew Johnson becomes president.
1896 – Closing ceremony of the Games of I Olympiad, the first modern international Olympic games, happens in Athens, Greece.
1923 – Insulin becomes open to the general public for use by people that suffer from diabetes.
1952 – First flight of the Boeing B-52, an American long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber, Stratofortress.
1994 – Marrakesh Agreement, an agreement signed by 123 and developed out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), relating to the foundation of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
2013 – Two bombs explode near the finish line at the Boston Marathon killing three people and injuring 264 others.
Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theater
1452 – Leonardo da Vinci, Italian painter, sculptor, and architect (d. 1519)
1874 – Johannes Stark, German physicist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1957) He won this prize “for his discovery of the Doppler effect in canal rays and the splitting of spectral lines in electric fields.”
1894 – Nikita Khruschev, Russian general and politician, 7th Premier of the Soviet Union
1912 – Kim Il-Sung, North Korean general and politician, 1st Supreme Leader of North Korea
1865 – Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States (b. 1809)
2010 – Jack Herer, American author and activist (b. 1939)
2017 – Emma Morano, Italian supercentenarian (+110 years of age), last person verified born in the 1800s (b. 1899)