July 21, 2024

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Brooklyn’s new borough president doesn’t care about the ‘character’ of your neighborhood. That’s ‘not more important than putting people in homes

2 min read

Since at least the 1960s, New Yorkers have been obsessed with the “character” of neighborhoods, or better said, their neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs, an urbanist who spent her life studying cities, famously tangled with the “power broker” himself, Robert Moses, as the planner wanted to build an expressway through the West Village, ripping up charming townhouses along the way. She even published a long essay about the soul of urbanism in the pages of Fortune Magazine as part of her campaign, resulting in her masterpiece book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

But Brooklyn’s borough president, Antonio Reynoso, is fed up with the city, one that he says only builds in poor neighborhoods that are predominantly inhabited by communities of color, while wealthier neighborhoods, sometimes filled with NIMBYs (not-in-my-backyard, anti-development residents), can resist change because of their political clout. Reynoso doesn’t seem to be shying away from the more than six-decade-long conversation of “neighborhood character;” to him, character shouldn’t matter when your city is missing hundreds of thousands of homes. And maybe the same should be said throughout the country, given our housing crisis is a by-product of a vast supply shortage, estimated to be anywhere between roughly two million and seven million homes. 

“We have a housing crisis,” Reynoso tells Fortune, “and the character of your neighborhood is not more important than putting people in homes.” 

Maybe initially the urge to preserve a neighborhood’s character was a good thing—after all, it came as a reaction to the aggressive construction of highways in the 1950s and ’60s that gutted entire neighborhoods and displaced thousands of people and businesses. These urban renewal efforts, by Jacobs’ account, failed to actually house more people, and their effects in segregating poor people and communities of color are well-documented. But eventually, the…

Alena Botros

2024-02-29 05:55:00

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