Mitchell Moss on sidewalks, subways and gentrification
Mitchell Moss, 63, the Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy & Planning at NYU's Wagner School of Public Service, is also the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy. A member of the NYU faculty since 1973, he was raised in Forest Hills and now lives in Greenwich Village with his wife, Candy.
Q What would you most like to see changed or accomplished in NYC?
A We need to widen our sidewalks to accommodate the constant flow of people who love to walk in this city. It’s busy all the time here now. This is a pedestrian city. Widening most needs to be done on Broadway from 14th St. down to Canal and we should think about doing it on parts of Avenue of the Americas as well. Crowds of people are overflowing out on to the street!
Q Will the middle class have an affordable place to live in NYC 30 years from now?
A Two-thirds of the people here do not own: They rent. We’re creating new neighborhoods in what were once industrial areas such Red Hook, Williamsburg, Green Point and Long Island City. The Bloomberg Administration has re-zoned one-sixth of NYC! One way to lower housing costs is to create more housing supply, and we’re doing that in the industrial sections of the city.
Q Point taken. But it sure looks like most of what is being built is still unaffordable to ordinary working people.
A We have a vast population of people in public housing. You want to have more worker housing. They’re doing that in Hunter’s Point, in Queens. If you create more housing, that creates more choices. Manhattan represents less than 20% of the city’s population. The real change that’s occurred is in the vast interest in living in places many people never even heard of before: Ditmas Park, Bushwick, Green Poing, Fort Greene. Fort Greene has some of the best housing in the city. It’s where all the wealthy industrialists lived 100 years ago – there were sugar refineries there - and today it’s filled with artists, writers and computer programmers.
Q Will the Second Ave. subway ever be finished?
A You have to look at it as a 100 year project. It’s taken half a century to get from 96th St. to 53rd St. Actually, it’s taken 60 years to go 30 blocks, so it might take 200 years to finish it. Their most important priority has been maintaining the current system. And subway construction is very complicated and challenging to build in an existing urban environment. These are long term projects and the real challenge will be to find funding. There’s the political will to do it, but (the delay) is about the money.
Q Will we ever have congestion pricing? And what about Gridlock Sam’s plan?
A There are fewer cars coming into Manhattan today than five years ago! Sam Schwartz has done a fabulous job of raising concern and the need for public sources of money, but we’re not ready for his ideas. I don’t know if they’re feasible. The MTA isn’t in a position to lower tolls (for certain bridges and times) and raise them elsewhere. Those bridges are funded by bonds issued by the MTA and the bonds of the MTA are sacrosanct. We need a totally different approach to funding infrastructure. We’ll probably have to think about on high occupancy lanes and toll some of the existing portions of the interstate highway system.
Q Is a gas tax in the future?
A Cars are so efficient now they’re using less gas. And Washington doesn’t have the appetite to raise the gas tax. Congestion is a sign of activity. I’d rather have Manhattan congested than the empty streets of Buffalo. What really contributes to congestion is parking. Why are we allowing parking on the weekends in Soho when it’s jammed? There’s free on street parking that basically takes away half the lanes! Parking should be banned in Soho, rather than encouraged. We’re giving away free parking that impedes the flow of pedestrians and auto traffic: It’s shocking! We still provide free parking for postal workers around the U.S. postal stations. Why should they get free parking? That adds to congestion. There should be no (employee?) parking permitted around that Penn Station Post Office.
Q How high can we expect MTA fares to go?
A It’ll go up a little bit more. It’s much better to have modest increases regularly (than infrequent large ones). I haven’t seen the plan, but mass transit is the glue that keeps this city together. It has to be at a point to attract workers and businesses and visitors. We don’t want to go back to the 70s, when it was a mess.
Q What’s your favorite undiscovered spot in NYC?
A Ikea Park. It’s in the Erie Basin in Red Hook. It’s got tranquility and is one of the great unknown treasures of the city.
Q What makes a person a New Yorker?
A That is a fabulous question. What makes a New Yorker is not religion and not race, not money and not looks. It’s not even talent. It’s the willingness to be part of life. It’s the willingness to use your energy in so many different ways, like the guy you see walking down Broadway with a cat on his head.
Q Fun stuff: What are your favorite hangs?
A Oh! Live Fish Bar and the Union Square Café. I also enjoy The Lemon Ice King of Corona, Miss Lily’s on West Houston and the Red Hook Lobster Pound.
Q What’s the best investment a New Yorker can make?
A Eh – it’s not unidimensional. for some people it might be education. For some it might be a hairstyle, or an apartment, a course to increase their skills, or a yoga mat. There are so many ways to invest in yourself in this city. For me it’s just walking and enjoying the city. There’s always something to discover. There’s no other city that gives people the opportunity to walk like we do. The rest of the country is one big mall trying to mimic what New York has naturally.