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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Programmed Out

Not long ago, I was at an event where a wealthy developer spoke for a few minutes to a group responsible for making public improvements in a local community. He proudly described how he had worked to "program every linear foot to make sure there was no space available for street vendors." This was expressed as though it was a self-evident truth that vendors along the curb would be a blight on the neighborhood.

I was horrified. The prospect of such complete design that it admitted no emergent activities sounded rigid and dull. Worse, it expressed a disdain toward the lower-income entrepreneurs whose daily labor anchors a vibrant street life in busy neighborhoods. While it is true that poorly regulated street vendors do sometimes contribute to sidewalk congestion in the densest areas, they also meet needs for cost and convenience that will surely be lacking in this man's new development.

I had little doubt that the intent of the design is to keep out both the working class businesses and the customers who would be attracted by their cost and convenience. This developer also mentioned racing his sail boat, and he was clearly building a neighborhood for the sort of people who can afford a yacht to go out sailing like him.

It is a vision of luxury that relies on exclusion for its sense of validation. It is a vision we should reject for New York City.