The proposal comes as a number of Upper West Side residents have collectively voiced their growing disappointment with the vastly changing urban structure. While small-scale, specialized, retail shops once reigned supreme in the City, residents have watched the rise of large retail chain stores emerge in their neighborhoods. While opponents of the proposal claim the market has catered to an evolving community, and cite the successes of the stores to demonstrate their general appeal, supporters claim the glowing streets with a diversity of boutique offerings are barely discernible nowadays. The heated debate between both sides has translated into headlines and ardent public discussion, as residents and scholars view the resolution of the situation as reflective of how other neighborhoods and cities may opt to deal with similar situations.
According to the proposed plan, the ground-level width of storefronts along Broadway and Columbus Avenues will be limited to forty feet, and banks posed with a twenty-five-foot restriction. The policy will take effect from 72nd to 110th Streets along Amsterdam, and 72nd to 87th Streets on Columbus. In addition, banks will be affected along Broadway, as proponents saw launching an overhaul of all of Broadway’s storefront as impractical. Stores will retain the ability to ascend and descend stores to their satisfaction; also, companies can procure as many properties as they wish. Besides for disagreeing with the overall objective of the enterprise, critics have noted these aspects as impediments to the proposal’s effectiveness.
But supporters have answered by acknowledging that even while the proposal will not completely alter the city climate, it will still ensure the Upper West Side retain its prevailing atmosphere.
“This modest proposal would help maintain the existing vibrant retail character,” explained City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden.
Upper West Side Councilwoman Gale Brewer clarified the economic toll continually exacted in the neighborhood due to the patronage of big-box stores.
“When local stores are lost to large chain stores and banks, our private lives and the community’s character are damaged,” she said. “These retail losses are permanent, and they drive other small business owners from the neighborhood.” Brewer emphasized the intangible aspect of the proposal that has opponents jumping out of their seats. “Stores are the soul of the neighborhood,” she added. “Small pharmacies, shoe stores, they mean everything to us.”
A number of residents have commented on this seemingly ineffable quality of having a prevalence of small retails shops as opposed to large chain stores.
“If I come out during one of my breaks, there’s no store to go into,” Susanna Brock, a private school teacher, told the New York Times. “What am I going to do, look at toothpaste at Duane Reade?”
Another local resident, Mel Wymore, complained that the ubiquity of banks has come at an aesthetic loss. “When a bank closes at night, it becomes dead space,” he exclaimed. “A retail establishment, on the other hand, is interesting to look at. Even when it’s closed, it engages the pedestrian.”
Those who reject the City’s plans have cast these arguments as emotionally driven and empirically insufficient.
“The general notion is that the ‘cute little place’ is an endangered species in New York and therefore requires protection and defense from extinction of by The People Who Know Best,” John Podhoretz sarcastically remarked in an opinion piece in the New York Post. “Sorry. What the zoning proposal is really out to protect is not the small merchant but the Upper West Side shopper—who apparently demands the right to more fun shops in which to browse.”
“No political philosopher in history would argue that you have an unalienable right to a funky boutique on your way to the subway,” he adds.
The zoning application is under review by a community board, and will require the approval of the planning department and the City Council to take effect.