SumCity

2011 (in progress)

Neighborhood change usually amounts to what game theorists call a zero-sum game, where one party’s gain is another party’s loss. Hotel and office development threaten to displace manufacturing, tall buildings are built on the ashes of short ones, and for every luxury residential unit that goes up, an affordable one comes down. It’s no wonder we’re in an age of “BANANA” (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) and “NIMBY” (Not In My Back Yard): people tend to want to stay where they are, and when change is synonymous with displacement, change becomes something people fear.

For better or worse, neighborhood change is inevitable in a dense, desirable city like New York City. But does neighborhood change have to be a zero-sum game? Does someone’s gain have to be someone else’s loss, or can neighborhood change happen in a way that mutually benefits both parties?

This is a proposal for what we call a “SumCity” neighborhood development plan for the Dutch Kills Neighborhood of Long Island City. We chose Dutch Kills for a few reasons. On the one hand, it already evidences the values of SumCity development, where one party’s gain is another party’s . . . gain. Dutch Kills—like most parts of Long Island City—is radically mixed-use, with a diversity of land uses, building types, and cultures that not only coexist, but actually mutually reinforce each other. On the other hand, Dutch Kills is going to change: development pressure—in the form of hotels, class A office buildings, and luxury residential towers—threaten to disrupt the neighborhood’s fragile ecology. Intervention is needed if Dutch Kills is going to grow in a way enhances what’s great about it.

It is our hope that by presenting a path to SumCity, in which such things as hotels, class A office buildings, and luxury residential towers would enhance what exists rather than price it out, this plan could change people’s attitudes towards growth. Instead of NIMBY, we hope to bring about WIMBY (Welcome In My Back Yard). If, as legal scholar Gerald Frug said, “the overall impact of American urban policy in the twentieth century [was] to disperse and divide the people who live in America’s metropolitan areas, and, as a result, to reduce the number of places where people encounter men and women different from themselves,” we think a good goal for 21st century urban policy would be to bring people together, and to increase the places where people encounter men and women different from themselves. We propose to use this development plan for Dutch Kills as a prototype for what a diverse, inclusive neighborhood could be in the 21st century.

 

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