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.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Testimony To City Council Subcommittee Respecting Proposed Sale of Inwood Library for Redevelopment and Upzoning of the Inwood Community

The community's message in chalk outside the library vs. that of elected officials creating "done deals" without public knowledge or participation: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer standing next to City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez in blue suit as he promotes the sale of the Inwood Library.  The man with the folded arms on Gale Brewer's other side is from de Blasio's HPD, also there to promote the sale of the Inwood Library. The man with the lowered head is a PR official from the NYPL.
Here is the testimony that Citizens Defending Libraries is submitting to City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises respecting its July 10th hearing on the proposed sale of the Inwood Library for redevelopment and the upzoning of the Inwood community.

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July 10, 2018

City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises
Council Chambers
City Hall
City Hall Park
New York, New York 10007
Re: Testimony respecting proposed sale of Inwood Library for redevelopment and upzoning of the Inwood community
Dear City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises:

Don’t let the NYPL and de Blasio administration put another notch in the belt sacrificing a public library to real estate interests with real estate deals that harm and don’t benefit the public as they waste and squander public assets.  We are asking that your committee and the City Council not let another such notch be put in that belt with the sale for redevelopment of the Inwood Library which is tied in with another attack on the Inwood neighborhood. . . that is the upzoning of the neighborhood as real estate greed goes on the war path.

As the community will surely testify, the upzoning, a radical rezoning, will drastically change the character of the neighborhood with the expected introduction of upsurging gentrification that will displace existing residents.  Existing lower income residents are likely to be hit especially hard.  Plus what thought has been given to how the existing fabric of the neighborhood and its culture will be shredded as change evicts the familiar and affordable mom and pop stores?
The sale of the library has been laminated to the upzoning.  Why?  What a strange thing to do.  At the developer meeting held in connection with the prospective sale of the Inwood Library the developers when they asked were told by city and library officials the library sale would only go forward if the upzoning goes forward.  Therefore the developers were told not to prepare any packages of proposals that did not assume that the upzoning would not go forward at the same time.

But to show you how out of control this process is, a developer at the meeting noted that the Request For Proposal guidelines specified that the proposals for a redevelopment of what is now the Inwood library should take into account the character and nature of the surrounding neighborhood.  The developer pointed out that the upzoning was going to change the neighborhood tremendously, probably in ways that can’t even be predicted.  He asked whether proposals should take into account the character of the existing neighborhood or the character of the neighborhood as it might possibly be after the effect of the rezoning.  “You figure it out,” library and city officials told him.  That illustrates not only how out of control these proposals are, it also illustrates an attitude that is execrably cavalier.  The last thing it illustrates is just how completely laissez faire public officials are being in turning over the public welfare to the whims (or worse) of the real estate industry and those trolling for profit at public expense.

The real estate industry looks at libraries, not as the community does, but as playthings with which to manipulate the community and perhaps bamboozle it into accepting what is against the community’s interest.  At a January 12, 2015 New School conference that addressed the real estate uses of libraries the New School’s host told the assembled professionals that in the end “a library is real estate” and that she had found:
it's often a nice placating gesture in a real estate development. You want to do commercial development?: Put a library in it and you win a new public that you might not have had on your team initially.
The sale of the Inwood Library may have been strangely and confusingly laminated to the upzoning in this instance, but probably the greater fool-or-confuse-the-community manipulation associated with the proposal to redevelop and privatize much of the site where the library now stands is the talk of the so-called affordable housing that is unlikely to replace the affordable housing lost when existing residents are displaced.

It is wrong to sell a library that has just been renovated and expanded.  It is impossible to recoup that investment when you destructively tear down and have to rebuild all over again.  The proposal is to give up most of the library real estate that the public now owns and put a replacement library in the bottom of a privately owned residential building.  That means the library can never be expanded when it needs to be.  If the library were to be put into a city-owned building that was also commercial it could be expanded, but that is not the proposal. .

. . . The proposal is the shrinkage of what the public owns, a shrinkage of the public realm, a shrinkage of the public commons.  And because libraries are the public commons that represent democracy so quintessentially, this is a shrinkage of democracy.  Because the shrinkage is laminated to an overall upzoning of the neighborhood that shrinkage is proportionately all the greater.

And the NYPL and de Blasio officials do not care one whit about that loss.  At the meeting they held for developers submitting RFP’s to tear down the Inwood library and acquire the site for redevelopment we made sure certain questions were asked and answered.  Will developer proposals supplying a bigger library get extra credit? No. Will developer proposals supplying more above ground space for the library get extra credit?  No. Will developer proposals that create the possibility for an expansion of the library in the future get extra credit?  No.  Is there a particular shape or configuration that would be good for the library that officials would like to specify would be good (rather than just leaving the public with the dregs after the developer has creamed off for itself the space the developer likes best)?  No.   

It is to be remembered that all these Nos were after the plan to sell the library was presented to the community as a `done deal’ with unaccountable local politicians signing onto the plan before it was ever communicated to the public for reaction in any way.

As others in the community will surely testify, the library is an essential ancillary facility to the neighborhood schools it abuts and is immediately proximate to.  These schools stand to suffer loss for a generation of the student classes passing through.  This loss should not be underestimated.  No interim arrangement is going to come close to meeting the community’s true needs- But then, from the standpoint of the real estate industry, and therefore city and library officials, that is not the point.  Don’t let them put another notch in their belt.

If you let them sell the Inwood Library for a concocted real estate scheme, you put every other library in New York City more at risk.  And even if you want to move out of Inwood after the rezoning and loss of the library you stand to be affected in those other neighborhoods.

Citizens Defending Libraries, formed in the beginning of 2013, has been witness to the callousness of the many concocted plans of the real estates industry supported by the library and city administration officials. We invite you to study our web page where we lay out and catalogue a record on the part of those officials that is not at all pretty.  Please consult the attached addendum with more information about what is on our web page.  It is the intent of Citizens Defending Libraries to shine a light and hold accountable over the long term all those participating in the irresponsible sale of our libraries.

Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries   

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Citizens Defending Libraries Web Page Information

Citizens Defending Libraries Main Web Page is at:
Or you can read the page LONG FORM if you want to read straight through to go more deeply into topics without clicking on them to do so as you read:       
Here is the way that our web page now breaks down into important subject headings, each of which can be individually read:
SIGN OUR PETITION TO SUPPORT LIBRARIES (Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em)

When Citizens Defending Libraries Started and Why
Achievements of Citizens Defending Libraries

What Libraries Are Affected By New York City Plans To Sell Libraries As Real Estate Deals, Shrink And Underfund Libraries And Eliminate Books?

Are The Libraries Being Shrunk, Pushed Underground, Books and Librarians Eliminated Because the World Is "Going Digital"? NO, That's NOT a Reason It Should Happen.

Are Libraries Just Too Expensive a Luxury to Pay For? Absolutely NOT!

NYC Libraries Are Being Sold For Huge Losses And For Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

WHO Is Selling Our Libraries?

When Did The Plans To Sell Libraries (Plus The Launching of The Concomitant Underfunding of Libraries) Begin?

It's Not Just The Real Estate Industry Threatening Libraries: Examining The Panoply of Other Threats

Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled? The Poor, The Racially Discriminated Against, Scholars, Future Leaders

How Many Books Are Disappearing From New York City Libraries?

Why Turning Libraries Into Real Estate Deals Isn't The Good Deal Library and City Development Officials Describe

Selling Libraries And The Broader Issue of Private Sector Plunder of Public Property
The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For When Officials Sell Libraries

How To Defend Libraries - What You Can Do

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