Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

News Coverage of Saturday, July 25, 2015 Village Of Sunset Park & Community Leader Rally To Save Sunset Park Brooklyn Public Library From Developers

This picture of the event Tweeted here.
This picture of the event Tweeted here.
This picture of the event Tweeted here.
Saturday, July 25, The Village Of Sunset Park, together with leaders of the community hosted a rally at the Sunset Park branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to save the library from developers.   Here are links to the coverage of that event:
•    Kings County Politics: Sunset Park Community Push Back Against Library Plan, by
Lenore Fedow, July 27, 2015
 "This is a very interconnected issue that we are dealing with here. With times of mass incarcerations of our young men in our Latino and minority communities, we need places like this to always be available, so that our youth have a place to go," said Alvarado.

"Our kids are going to be displaced. The reality is that you can put a completion date on [the project] all you want, but with the extras and how the city works, I can tell you two years, three years, can turn into five years. By that time, the kids that use this library will no longer be here using this library. They'll be in junior high school and they'll find another place to go," said Nieves, who cited his background in architecture.

* * *

Maria Roca, founder and chair of Friends of Sunset Park, had strong words for the Brooklyn Public Library. Roca read their mission statement aloud, stressing their stated commitment to providing, "the people of Brooklyn with free and open access to information for education, recreation and reference." Sunset Park's commercial strip has been growing over the past 15 years, according to Roca, and she speculated where the money has gone.

* * *

Ramon Acevedo, the president of the Village of Sunset Park, spoke fondly of the library and the surrounding community’s efforts to keep it afloat. “We kept the drug dealers out of here. We kept the gangs out of here. We kept this place clean. We had to protect this because this is an institution in which our children receive an education.

•    NY1 (video): Brooklyn Residents Protest Housing Development on Library Site, by NY1 News,  Sunday, July 26, 2015
  “the project’s development will limit future library expansion . .”
•    Patch: Another Brooklyn Library Prepares to Be Swallowed by Housing DevelopmentThis time, in Sunset Park, by Simone Wilson (Patch Staff),  July 27, 2015.

•    Home Reporter & Sunset News/The Brooklyn Spectator: Advocacy groups, local residents denounce plans to tear down Sunset Park Library for new structure, by Faraz T. Toor.
The community group is unsatisfied with the potential building expansion, saying that it isn’t quite what it seems. “We’re really not getting that. We’re getting a shell, meaning we’re not getting the walls, the flooring, the electrical. We’re not getting anything else,” said local attorney Richard Villar.

The proposed library will be placed at the bottom of a residential building. Therefore, it will no longer be public or owned by the city. The Sunset Park Branch, which would be redeveloped for the third time, would never see another expansion. Library supporters worry that the size of the new library may not fit the needs of the growing community in the future.

* * *

The Village of Sunset Park and its supporters are distrustful of the developers and feel that they were kept in the dark about the condominium proposal. The community became aware of the proposal after Citizens Defending Libraries, a blog in support of funding city libraries, published the information.

* * *

Michael White, a representative of Citizens Defending Libraries, spoke at the rally. He told the crowd that the blog was started when it came to his attention that library administration officials were moving away from the core mission of the libraries towards real estate deals. White said the officials seem to care less about the public and more about what can be done for developers. White instructed the crowd to look back at the discussions and minutes of old meetings to uncover the truth.

According to White, the plans for the Sunset Park branch go back to 2007, or possibly even 2005. "You will find that the underfunding of the libraries began when the plans to sell the libraries and turn them into real estate deals were being formulated. These real estate deals, in a perverse way, are generating an underfunding of our libraries and we have to say no to that. We have to call for the libraries to be properly funded and then we can do with them what the communities want," said White.
Also relevant:
•    The Indypendent: Turning Libraries Into Condos, By Peter Rugh, August 5, 2015
. .  “Shut not your doors to me proud libraries,” Whitman wrote. We in present-day New York would do well to listen. Libraries, like other bastions of the public sphere — our parks, hospitals, schools, public housing — are under siege from a real estate industry that sees the finite space of our city as a bottomless cash cow.

* * *

In a July 15 roll call vote nearly drowned out by chants of "Not for sale!" from the audience, members of Brooklyn Community Board 2 in Brooklyn Heights voted 25-14 with four abstentions in support of Hudson's plan. Under city law, the proposed luxury condo tower still needs to be reviewed by the Brooklyn Borough President and the City Planning Commission and then be voted on by City Council.

* * *

“We used to fight about getting enough funds to build and expand our libraries,” said Michael White a former city planner and co-founder of the activist group Citizens Defending Libraries. “Now we’re fighting about not getting enough money so that we don’t have to sell off and shrink our libraries.”

* * *

The defunding of New York's libraries has come at a time when their popularity has been surging. From 2002 to 2014, annual attendance at programs put on by libraries increased from 1.7 to 2.8 million people per year. Checkouts of physical and e-books and other items have increased by 30 percent. Altogether, the city's libraries receive 37 million visitors per year, a number that exceeds the combined annual attendance at New York's major professional sports events, performing arts centers, museums, historical sites, botanical gardens and zoos.

* * *

"They've let things deteriorate," said Tom Angotti, a professor of urban planning at Hunter College and author of New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate, remarking on what he describes as the New York's pervasive neoliberal development model, "So now they can turn around and say, `You see, this is not working. We'll give it to a private company and they'll know how to use it.'"

* * *

The sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library is the latest in a series of transactions with developers involving New York's libraries. These privatizations began under Bloomberg and have continued with de Blasio. Two prior dealings between the libraries and the real estate industry offer a glimpse into what the public can expect from such activity. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

* * *

“It’s a matter of community,” said Angotti. “Libraries are one of the few democratic places left in the city. You go to a local library, people are reading, going to events, socializing, people of all ages. They are places where people can go for advice and look for information, using a variety of different media. It has a value that goes beyond the dollar value. It’s a value to people.”

The proposed deal is now under review by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. He will hold a public hearing on the proposed sale at Brooklyn Borough Hall on August 18 at 6pm. In a recent interview with The Brooklyn Paper, Adams said he envisions book-free libraries in the future.

“We no longer need shelves of books in libraries to look impressive,” he commented.

On the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Adams remains officially non-committal.

“I look forward to reviewing Community Board 2’s recommendations and hearing from local residents about the proposed plans for the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library,” Adams said in a statement released by a press spokesperson.

The fate of the highrise and the life of the library underneath it might just depend on the pressure that comes from below, which critics like White vow to supply.

“We’ll be talking with the borough president,” said White, who, along with other members of Citizens Defending Libraries, plans on attending the hearings Adams is holding on the sale in August. “You cannot sell off a publicly owned library like this without going through a public process, and we’re still at the very beginning of that process.”
•    World Socialist Web Site: Brooklyn Library locations sold to real estate developers, by Isaac Finn, July 20, 2015.
    The administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to sell public property to real estate developers, most recently with the decision last week to sell two library locations.

    On July 15, Brooklyn Community Board 2 voted, amid protests from neighborhood residents, to approve the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library location for $52 million to the Hudson Companies. Protesters waved fliers and chanted "shame on you," following the Community Board vote . . .

    * * * *

    In addition, city officials announced earlier this month the sale of the Sunset Park Library location, also in Brooklyn, to the nonprofit developer Fifth Avenue Committee. Under the stated plan, the library would be expanded to roughly double its size, with an additional 49 housing units built on top.

    The announcement of these plans, part of a plan to supposedly build 3,740 affordable housing units in New York State, including 2,500 in New York City, drew criticism from Sunset Park residents, who fear the program is an attempt attract more affluent renters and push out current neighborhood residents. Protesters shouted "Affordable for who?" and "Stop gentrification!"

    * * * *

    The decision to sell the Brooklyn Heights and Sunset Park library locations is part of an ongoing strategy-initiated under the administration of Michael Bloomberg and continued under de Blasio-of utilizing the funding crisis of New York City libraries to open up their locations to developers.

    This policy has already devastated New York's library system, with the demolition of the famous Donnell Library Center in 2008. The Donnell Library location was first sold to the American Folk Art Museum, which subsequently lost the location after defaulting on its debts. The Donnell Library, after seven years of being closed, is now planned to reopen at a third of its former size and inside the same building as a luxury hotel.

    De Blasio has played a particularly duplicitous role in these developments. He stated during his 2013 election campaign that he would defend public facilities from real estate developers, but since taking office, he has allowed library locations to be sold.

    * * * *

    The de Blasio administration aims to maintain a progressive veneer by providing the library system with slightly more funds and building a negligible number of affordable housing units, even while the mayor opens up library locations to developers and real-estate speculators.
 •    Noticing New York: Was Library Administration Officials' Campaign For Restoration of Library Funding Done With Great Fanfare A Victory? No. Was It Even A Great Campaign? No, by Michael D. D. White, August 13, 2015
•    Brooklyn Magazine: Brooklyn Libraries Are Still In Shambles, and No One Knows How To Fix Them, by Sam Blum, July 29, 2015

You may also want to refer to the Media Advisory that went out for the event:
Articles Related To Coverage of Sunset Park Community Protest at Recent BPL Surprise July 4th Weekend Press Conference About Library Sale and Redevelopement

The BPL held a surprise pre-July 4th weekend press conference about the redevelopment of the Sunset Park Library being sprung on the community and got a surprise in return: Community protesters that we understand resulted in elected officials present stepping away from the stage.  It got press coverage opposite to what the BPL expected:

•    Daily News: Demonstrators slam gentrification as Eric Schneiderman pushes affordable housing plans, by Chris Sommerfeldt , Bill Hutchinson, Wednesday, July 1, 2015

•    CBS News: Sunset Park Residents Opposed To Planned Expansion of Affordable Housing Heckle Speakers,  July 1, 2015

 •    Home Reporter & Sunset News/The Brooklyn Spectator:  Elected officials join Citibank and Bank of America to announce affordable housing plan amidst protest, by Jaime DeJesus, July 8, 2015
Although the move was applauded by some, Sunset Park residents who crashed the press conference expressed displeasure with the library expansion and affordable housing plan being pursued by the Fifth Avenue Committee that includes 49 units, holding up signs that read "Affordable for who?"

The crowd would have been bigger, protesters said, had the event been more publicized. "A lot of people in the community didn't know a high powered press conference was taking place so a lot of people weren't present. Nobody was alerted to it," said Sunset resident Javier Nieves, who caught wind of the conference with a few other residents. "It's an indication how they're moving this housing plan over the library. It has been kept very secretive."

Interesting questions to ask about this press conference:  What was NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman doing at this event promoting a no-bid, no-community input project with origins in need of his investigation?  Another question, was it appropriate for Schneiderman to be making political hay by deploying mortgage foreclosure abuse money in a community that did not significantly suffer such abuses?  Should the money be going to benefit the communities that were actually victim instead?  

Here is a proposed statement of principles about library redevelopment that might affects the Sunset Park Branch together with links to earlier coverage about community dissatisfaction  with the  proposals the BPL sprung on the community.
•    Monday, November 3, 2014, Proposed Statement of Principles Concerning Any Possible Redevelopment of Library-- Sunset Park Branch -
Alternatives the public was not allowed to debate or consider: Putting the library in a commercial publicly owned building where it could expand and grow again when needs be, or putting it at a new site, perhaps across the street, or in a local historic building needing to be preserved so that there would be no interruption of service or possibility of a bait and switch.

FYI:  Here is a version of a comment Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White put up in on the Sunset Park articles.
While BPL officials may, at this time, for purposes of this article, maintain that these two library sales are "unrelated," BPL officials have, at numerous times during numerous of their presentations, said that IF the Brooklyn Heights central downtown library is sold that the Sunset Park library redevelopment will be moved to the head of the list for city funding and that if no sale of the Heights library occurs the Sunset Park deal wouldn't be funded, their argument to the public being that some of the funds for Sunset Park will come from and be traceable back to proceeds of the Heights Library sale (highly tenuous and almost impossible to assure in any way).

In addition, both library sales will require public approval pursuant to a ULURP process, both going to the Brooklyn Borough President for first ever of their kind hearings.  Because of the linkage the BPL has set up, the public should testify at each hearing about the other library, something we can expect.

Sunset Park has not yet gone to a CB7 community board review yet, but the Heights central downtown library sale going first will be before Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for a hearing on August 18, 2015.

More about that here:
Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams To Hold Uniform Land Use Review Procedure Public Hearing, August 18, 2015, On Whether Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn's Central Destination Library In Downtown Brooklyn Should Be Sold And Shrunk

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