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, April 8, 2017

Fourth Forum on Selling Off Public Assets, Presented by First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn's Weaving the Fabric of Diversity & Citizens Defending Libraries, April 8, 2017

First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn's Weaving the Fabric of Diversity & Citizens Defending Libraries present the fourth Forum on Selling Off Public Assets
Saturday April 8, 2017, 2:30 - 5:00 PM,
116 Pierrepont St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Panel Discussion Speakers:

Lynn Ellsworth founded the Tribeca Trust, a civic organization, and is a co-founder of the Alliance for a Human-scale City, a network of over 100 community and civic groups from all five boroughs.  Lynn founded the Friends of Duane Park and created the Inside Tribeca Loft tour in 1994.  Lynn is most proud of orchestrating the restoration of a public park that had been paved over by Robert Moses. She is working on a book about the political economy of historic districts and humanscale urbanism, with a working title:  In the Shadow of the Skyscraper.  Lynn Ellsworth is a Mom and dog-owner who lives in Tribeca.

Alicia Boyd is a community activist in the Crown Heights/Flatbush and Prospect Lefferts Garden community. Alicia has been very effective in challenging local politicians and focusing on the empowerment of the community through the Community Board. She is the co-founder of MTOPP - The Movement To Protect People, Empire Study Group and FLAC - Flower Lovers Against Corruption.   Alicia is most proud of stopping a major up zoning planned in her community.  Alicia Conducted one of the largest Brooklyn Anti-gentrification and Displacement forums at the Brooklyn Museum. Alicia's organization has filed 6 lawsuits against the Community Board, Borough President Eric Adams and the Office of Budget and Management. She can be reached at www.mtopp.org or (718) 703-3086.

Tom Angotti is Professor of Urban Policy & Planning at Hunter College and the Graduate Center/CUNY. He recently coedited Zoned Out! Race, Displacement and City Planning in New York City and previously authored New York For Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate.

Michael D. D. White is a co-founder Citizens Defending Libraries, a lawyer and an urban planner who worked for NYC and the NYS public finance agencies for over a quarter century.  He writes Noticing New York about development in NYC and associated politics and National Notice about national economic and policy issues.

Carolyn McIntyre is another of the co-founders of Citizens Defending Libraries, a social worker and therapist practicing in New York. She is married to Mr. White.

* * * *

Forum on Public Assets- Outline

The discussion is intended to build on the results of the prior forums (See on the web: Our Public Assets Under Attack- A Calamity of the Commons Unfolding That We Must Act Collectively Against- How best To Express It?) and help build to more such discussion, with future forums, discussion and publication.

    1.    The “spectacles” through which public assets are viewed for potential privatizing- Monetizable, Quantifiable, Potential operation of exclusion principle
        a.    Private owner decision making vs. decision in the commons
        b.    Corporate mentality (what this means for absence of ethics)
        c.    Conglomerate thinking (i.e. top–down and ever increasing consolidation of wealth thinking, invisibility of people as people)
        d.    Wealth inequality (and the vicious cycles in play)
        e.    Realms in addition to public commons under attack (family, private, and spiritual life)
        f.    Flip side argument- The “tragedy of the commons”, Wikipedia, Twitter, Overfishing of the ocean, Safari parks and wildlife preserves in Africa, Oscar Newman’s “Defensible Space” vs. Jane Jacobs’ “Eyes on the Street.”
    2.    Examples of public assets under attack: Libraries, parks, playgrounds and memorials, schools & colleges, hospitals, public housing and buildings built on city-owned land, fire houses, police stations and post offices, prisons, light and air (zoning) and public ownership of the streets, the environment, the public airwaves, the internet, knowledge and information, culture.
    3.    Methods of takeover: The shock and awe tactics of defunding etc.
    4.    “Private Public Partnerships” - Jane Jacobs’ “monestrous hybrids” and "if you ride with the devil, sooner or later he’s gonna drive." Withheld public benefits used as lures to permit private profit. (20 minutes)
    5.    One way to take over public assets?: Usurpation of ownership/control of those who own and protect the public assets:
        a.    Taking over elected officials, political parties, elections and government
        b.    Community Boards and property-owner-controlled “Business Improvement Districts.”
        c.    501(c)(3)s and charitable organizations, library boards, museums, public broadcasting, etc.
        d.    AstroTruf Groups:
            i.    Those groups formed for the purpose of being AstroTurf, capturing and co-opting expected and logical opposition.
            ii.    Takeover of sometimes venerable legacy groups with proven past records of protecting and representing the public.
    6.    Who’s to thank?  Some recurring characters and political operatives
    7.    Ways to protect the public. Who are our allies? Raising awareness.  Peoples Puppet Theater.

* * * *

An audio recording of the forum is available via this link:  Recording April 8, 2017 Forum on Selling Off Public Assets.

We have not yet prepared video.

 * * * *

Our Public Assets Under Attack- A Calamity of the Commons Unfolding That We Must Act Collectively Against- How best To Express It?
But how to express it?  With multiple forums we have been working on that.
A Sign-On Letter of Support: We Stand Collectively Against The Sale of Public Assets- For Your Consideration
We sign this letter urging the protection of our public assets hoping that you as our elected officials will take our message to heart recognizing us as the public constituency to which you are properly accountable.

Our public assets, our public properties are under attack.  We believe the situation is increasingly dire.  That which endows the public realm and the public commons with its value and essential meaning is in jeopardy.  In deals that skew toward private profit at public expense, greed is exceeding itself as never before to push the envelope of what is conceivable everywhere we look.

Public parks and public buildings built on city-owned land. .  schools, colleges, libraries, fire houses, playgrounds, police stations, hospitals, housing, memorials . . these public assets are part of our New York  heritage, civic architecture and crucial infrastructure and resources that belong to everyone.  If city services are relocated, cut back or curtailed when city buildings are privatized, everyone loses, except the privileged few who arrive on the scene purporting to be our new "private partners."

To acquaint yourself more fully with the spectrum of assets under attack look at the names of the groups signing this letter and consider the assets those groups were formed to protect.  Their statements about why they are signing this letter elucidate this crisis further.

Built by our forefathers with public funds and resources, assembled over decades, some more than a century ago, the basic amenities of the public realm that are at stake are increasingly irreplaceable.  The same rapidly escalating land values underlying these properties and the prime locations that put them squarely in the sights of the real estate industry virtually assures the impossibility of the public's reacquiring such treasures ever again.  Similarly, the master craftsmanship and natural materials of the traditional architecture these assets feature will be increasingly costly and hard to obtain, or in anyway replicate.

Part of the problem is that we are in an era of increasing income and wealth inequality with the most affluent in our society lowering the taxes they pay.  Some may assert that a significant diminishment and elimination of the public realm must therefore be accepted as inevitable even as the city and its wealth continue to grow.  We, however, choose to view this new imbalance as temporary and subject to correction.

More insidious is how the growing political inequality and the power that flows from mounting economic disparities is being abused.  We witness the interests of money repeatedly prioritized over the rights of the voting electorate as potent influence is exercised to lay siege to our public properties.

We cannot let a privileged few with special access show up on the steps of government with plans to sell and privatize our assets, plundering their value.  Because these losses are so tragically permanent and long-term we must think in terms of the future, banding together to face the current assault and draw the line, doing everything we can to ensure our public assets are protected immediately.

Although the reasons for alarm should be obvious, we are concerned that the public servants we must  look to as guardians too frequently are not alert or responsive.  Outcry is essential when reorganizations under the rubric of "partnerships" convey responsibility for the provision of basic government functions, like public schools, parks and public libraries to those focused on private profit.  In these situations we find the public baited into accepting Faustian bargains premised on notions that the unacceptable be accepted.

Brutally inverted propositions perplex the public:
    •    Your city can't keep pace with the rampant development in your vicinity to provide the public school expansion now needed?  A developer will provide the public school if it can do whatever it wants with a historic district, turned over to it as ransom.

    •    The city refuses libraries their traditional and appropriate level of funding?  You may be told that you can have a better library if the community consents to upzoning because libraries are openly discussed as nice "placating" gestures, tactics, to push through developers' schemes.
In all these situations the private offerors' incentive is to minimize public benefit while maximizing private profit.  Our new private gatekeepers benefit from withholding public benefit, particularly since dribbling benefits out in the smallest possible increments will allow them to return more often with new proposed "bargains."  Even worse, the private sector is given an incentive to foment public crisis for private exploitation.

When the job of managing our public properties is captured by private interests with altered agendas, we see a dismaying shift of balance in the way these so-called "partners" manage things and the outcomes that result.  We get, for instance, the spectacle of hospitals expertly administered by top-talent professionals who skillfully deliver premium real estate deals while entrusted community health care facilities are steered into bankruptcy.

Over and over again we see a lack of transparency with the adoption of unnecessarily complicated governance structures and funding mechanisms, set-ups that seem best contrived to deflect accountability.

Reflect and you will probably recognize these aspects of commonly recurring modus operandi by those raiding public treasures:
    •    Withhold funds claiming there's no money for public assets or that what we publicly own can only be funded with self-cannibalizing sell-offs.

    •    Manufacture crisis conditions and present false choices, seeking to promote "TINA" narratives ("There Is No Alternative").  This can include overestimating and inflating repair and maintenance costs while so-called "solutions" are rushed forward.

    •    Underestimate the value of what the public owns.  This way assets (e.g. Donnell Library) can be disposed of at far less than true value benefitting developers and escaping accountability to the public.

    •    Do top-down designed deals that the public will be the last to know about, part of a general effort to eliminate the public from discussions to the maximum extent possible.

    •    Stack decision-making boards with people who are unsympathetic to those served by the targeted assets.

    •    Do deals calibrated to be benefit .01% while frequently, opportunistically, taking advantage of income inequality to target assets that have more value to the less politically powerful and less advantaged.

    •    Dismiss alternatives to protect and preserve the assets.  (Includes obfuscating and ignoring facts).
The way in which we see our public assets attacked are obvious symptoms of another major necessary conversation that looms in the background.  When assets the public clearly cherishes and would chose to pay for are targeted for transfers catering to private objectives we know that we must recognize the root causes for this neglect of the public will. Money in politics, election and campaign finance reform must be addressed.  Still, it is essential that our public assets be protected now without these more encompassing, albeit related, battles having to be won first.  In fact, we cannot let these conversions of public capital into even more private gain additionally fuel the imbalance and inequity being fought.

We believe that it is important to view all these many attacks on our public assets as being all of a whole.  All of these lop-sided deals should receive collective scrutiny.  The often common and repeated stratagems employed against the public should be looked at on an integrated basis, which includes noting that there is a high frequency of overlap among the players and political operatives that present them to us.

We request your support and your statements of allegiance.  Most of all we request that you take action that is observable as effective.  Not only are we reaching out, we will also be watching.

All who represent us and are charged with protecting our interests need to roundly and soundly agree that this era of putting the public's property on the auction block is an era who's time has passed.  It was never sustainable in the first place. Whenever deals like these present themselves we must recognize them for the cheats and swindles that they are, greet them as dead on arrival and pack them off with the quick funerals they deserve.

NOTE:  After Citizens Defending Libraries held our first three forums on public assets, the Municipal Art Society held what they called a “summit” on the sale of public assets.  The difference between our “forums” and their “summit” is that we sought the public perspective and didn’t feature people from Goldman Sachs and library-selling developers and politicians invited to lecture the captive audience about why it was good to let their profit-making enterprises privatize public assets.  (See: Saturday, November 5, 2016, Municipal Art Society's Summit on "Public Assets": Who Gets to Decide What They Are & Whether They Matter, Featuring Goldman Sachs and A Library-Shrinking Developer (It Follows Suit After Us But Goes OPPOSITE To Our Lead!)

OTHER USEFUL RELATED LINKS (on videos click through to YouTube for best viewing)

From Noticing New York

•    Noticing New York: Stephen A. Schwarzman The Man Making Deals To Privatize The American Public's Infrastructure?: It's Unforgivable (And Coming From Trump), Saturday, June 10, 2017

•    Workplace Democracy (VIDEO): Noam Chomsky on Privatization, May 6, 2014
"That's the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don't work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital."

"Privatization does not mean you take a public institution and give it to some nice person, it means you take a public institution and give it to an unaccountable tyranny."

•    Canada’s National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) VIDEO: The Privatization Zombie, September 19, 2013

•    The privatization of public services' in one minute, January 31, 2014

•    The Privatization Beast: Libraries, February 14, 2011

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