While real estate and business groups opposed the Upper West Side rezoning that places restrictions on retail establishments, James Gardener, a native of the neighborhood and The Real Deal‘s architecture critic, makes a compelling case for the legislation.
He argues that the rezoning improves not only the retail mix on the stretch, not always great, but also the street life, that most essential of New York experiences, a landmark more important even than the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, perhaps. For after all, it is at street level where so many of us live, not in these hokey locales.
But in recent years, with the revival of Columbus Avenue’s fortunes and the Upper West Side in general, the big banks (as well as big retailers) have moved in, occupying some of the choicest corners with branches that take up as much as half a block. The presence of such banks here and throughout the city is especially to be regretted because, due to their profligate abundance, they add almost nothing to the neighborhood; they are by their very nature a boring architectural typology, and most of the time they are closed, thus constituting a dead space. And yet, because banks are national or even international corporations with money to burn, they can pay any amount of rent and, laying hold of the most conspicuous corners of the Upper West Side and occupying them with their drab and unimaginative branches.
In the area covered by the proposed legislation, there are already 30 banks.
Naturally, many brokers and landlords are not happy with the legislation, which has several stages of review to undergo before it goes before the City Council. Yet it is quite likely that the effect of the legislation, if it passes, will be a subtle — and maybe more than subtle — enhancement of the Upper West Side. But even if it restricts the square footage of banks going forward, unfortunately it will have no retroactive effect on those that are already there.
After all, who really wants to patronize an awful outdoor mall? Just look at Soho.