Why save a public market in NYC? Heeding the call to revitalize the Fulton Fish Market.

Members and friends of the Green Rabbits network responded online in Comments section of article "Seeking a View into the Seaport’s Future" () by Terese Loeb Kreuzer in Downtown Express. Their comments are republished here.


Robert LaValva:

Mr. Curry fails to realize he is not in Kansas anymore. A plastic Christmas tree and some movie reruns on cheap astroturf don't cut it with New Yorkers, who see right through Howard Hughes and its ongoing lack of transparency regarding the South Street Seaport.

The Fulton Fish Market "Tin Building" and "New Market Building" are public structures, on a public site whose origins date to 1822. The Seaport itself has been a public gathering place since the early 17th century.
Lower Manhattan residents should be outraged that this unique city asset, in their own backyard, is undergoing a planning and privatization process without any community input. If this were happening at Tompkins Square, Washington Square, or Central Park, how would their nearby communities react?

The public has every right to demand more open and transparent planning for an irreplaceable city-owned site. Community Board 1 may not be able to issue a moratorium, but what it can do is pass a resolution stating it will reject any further development of the Seaport proposed by Howard Hughes. Earlier this year, Council Member Chin initiated a community-led planning effort to map the future of the Seaport. She was right to do so; the plan should come first; only after should developers be solicited, openly, to carry out what the City and the community desire.


Paul Neuman:

We need markets, not malls. My family bought fish for their retail store at the Fulton Market for almost 100 years. I would like my children and grandchildren to understand their heritage and not abandon another precious tract of the city's history to over-development. Let's restore dignity to an area that deserves to be remembered for it's role in our growth as the major urban center in the Western hemisphere.


Carolyn Steel:

As a London-based architect watching the South Street Seaport development saga unfold from across the Pond, it is astonishing to me that the precious and unique qualities of the area appear not to be recognised by the city authorities. In London, we have witnessed many such battles over recent decades, and the lessons learned are unambiguous and clear. Covent Garden, one of our most vibrant and successful neighbourhoods, came within two days of demolition in the 1970s, before a determined group of local residents and businesses managed to win a reprieve. Imagine that part of London, if you will, with the historic market buildings gone, replaced by a faceless offices precinct complete with flying walkways! It would have been a disaster of epic proportions. Similarly, Coin Street on London’s South Bank was saved from a massive office development and now forms one of the most admired and visited mixed-use communities in the city.

As the author of Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives, I am well aware of the importance of protecting such areas and their power to generate and sustain the sort of vibrant mixed-use life that is the stuff of all great cities. Food markets, such as New Amsterdam Market, are often key to such revitalisation. Borough Market, now the most visited tourist attraction in London, has also been the driving force behind the astonishing resurgence of what was once a hugely deprived neighbourhood. Its success is robust enough to accommodate tourists and locals alike.

New York City has long been a beacon of inspiration to those of us working to re-democratise and vitalise cities. Jane Jacobs, arguably the greatest urban visionary of recent times and a long-term NYC resident, understood this very well. Had she been alive today, she would surely have campaigned alongside Robert LaValva in order to highlight the enormous potential that the sympathetic and democratic revival of the South Street Seaport would bring to the neighbourhood, city and region. If I were there with you in NYC, I would do the same.


Claudia Keel:

Once a historic sight is gone it is gone. Again and again in cities throughout the world, historic centers that are preserved and renewed for modern communities become not only a source of community wellbeing, but also of economic wellbeing. Generic development with the current modern style business model, not only dampens the soul, it is bad for local communities and eventually does not have the multi-faceted use to be economically sustainable. Why not save Fulton Fish Market, the ancient trading post, as Grand Central was saved in the 11th hour in the 1970s? New York City can not afford to loose another historical building like Penn Station only to years later regret it and try to recreate it.


Matthew Hoffman:

There are two things wrong with the Howard Hughes Corporation’s plans. For one thing, they will make lousy use of a very special and very public space, robbing the city of fantastic opportunities to do better. For another thing, they are being pursued secretively in lieu of what should be a democratic public process.

The thing that makes cities great, and which makes New York greater than most cities, is the presence of large public spaces where one can mingle with crowds of people in an atmosphere defined by a blend of history and Zeitgeist. The ambience of a restaurant or a store is the product of its manager. The ambience of a public square or market is the product of its historic architecture and the mood of the crowd at the moment. These places are open to everyone and they are exciting places because they are alive – they draw their energy from everyone who uses them and they come to define the city of which they are a part. Shopping malls never accomplish this.

The beautiful vision that Robert LaValva and others involved with the New Amsterdam Market have for the old seaport has proven its vitality. From the very first it has attracted crowds of people – both residents and visitors – and made the space in front of the Tin Building come alive. The Market is not merely a spectacle or a place to buy things, it is a growing network that provides support and encouragement to craft food producers throughout the city and upstate NY, connecting farmers, food entrepreneurs, and customers while creating a fluorescence of local culture.

A shopping mall, or any private space, would be a sad alternative. Which is surely why the Howard Hughes Corporation is pursuing their plans behind closed doors. Any changes to important public spaces should be pursued as part of an open community planning process. The vision of the New Amsterdam Market is an expression of the best of what is happening in New York today. To pursue this vision, and to make sure that public space is used for public purposes, and not merely to add to lower Manhattan’s collection of bleak spaces designed for the accumulation of private wealth, the decision making process needs to be made more democratic.


Erik Thor Hartten:

A city’s vibrancy, color, quality of life, true character, and indeed, its long-term viability are defined by many things; but in the end, it is people, their identities, their unique stories as well as their capacity to accept one another, forge new relationships and unite in common cause to improve their general welfare by creating new social, cultural, political and economic value for all that makes a city a living, thriving, complex organism and not simply some random aggregation of disparate humanity and inanimate mass.

There is a direct and proportional relationship between the strength of this capacity and the health of a city’s public spaces which serve to welcome, educate, celebrate and inspire us all, no matter our backgrounds and differences, but which also provide vital local context, whether it is geographic, cultural, temporal, environmental, or other. Public space connects us to our surroundings. It enables and empowers us to learn and care about one another and to share in our common destiny. In many ways, it epitomizes “the Republic for which we stand.”

New York City’s greatness is anchored in the sheer number and size, the accessibility and long-term success of its great public spaces, many of which are the envy of the world. While in these days of scarce public resource there is a growing temptation and tendency to “auction off” some of these spaces to the highest private bidder, little of this is done with an eye to our need to come together and build a common future.

At its heart, New York City is a maritime market city and all the amazing diversity that such brings. Nowhere is this more evident than at the publicly-owned South Street Seaport Historic District and all of the buildings of which it is comprised, including the New Market Building. The EDC’s decision to essentially hand over the keys for shaping the future of this entire public area to a single, outside private interest sets a very short-sighted, irresponsible, and in fact, dangerous precedent.

If you are looking for an example of how badly this can turn, look no further than your neighbor across the Hudson, Jersey City, where far too much of its unique waterfront has been turned into privately-owned, glass-towered, insular gated communities. I truly believe that South Street Seaport represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for New York City’s citizens, in general, and District 1’s residents, in particular, to create a new kind of public space that benefits all New Yorkers and the region that sustains them and that effectively and proudly broadcasts to their guests what they have been, are and will always be about.

For all of our sakes, please don’t screw this up like so many others have. Care enough to Save the Seaport!


Michael Yezzi:

I attended the City Council Sub-Comittee hearing on the rezoning of the Seaport neighborhood. It was clear that Howard Hughes Corp.(HH Corp.) was not willing to commit to any aspect of the Pier 17 project and was unwilling to disclose its plans for adjacent public property. While this is not surprising, I was struck by the willingness of the Council to accept their evasive and non-responsive answers. The Council failed in their duty to require HH Corp. to disclose all plans so the proposed project can be reasonably evaluated by the public and Council prior to approval.

Community Board 1 supported the project but recommend that any approval be contingent on certain disclosures and commitments by HH Corp. I believe that this approach failed to achieve the Community Boards goals and protect the interest of the residents and businesses of in the neighborhood.

HH Corp. has shown that they will disclose only what they are forced to disclose. If Community Board 1 wants to represent the interests of their constituents and do their duty as a Community Board they must take an alternate approach. CB1 should oppose all government approvals until HH Corp. discloses all information the Board and public need to fully evaluate the HH redevelopment of Pier 17, the Fulton Fish Market, and the area covered by the rezoning.

HH Corp. continues to stonewall. It's approach show open contempt for Community Board 1. HH Corp. acts as if it does not need to consider the priorities of the residents and businesses of CB1 in to its use of public property. We will soon see if HH Corp. has chosen the right strategy.


Claire Hartten:

What is urgently needed now to save the city-owned Fulton Fish Market and other surviving parts of South Street Seaport? We need a commitment from New York City's government officials to initiate a real planning effort -- an informed, open process for the whole waterfront district that revitalizes and respects the oldest surviving public market for food trading in the US.

Because the site has been offered to the Texas-based mall developer, Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC), we can expect that developer won't give it up easily. However, the local community is more and more disenchanted with HHC, and some newly elected officials are reassessing the situation.

As urban planner, Robert LaValva, founder of the New Amsterdam Market, frames what is at stake, "The Fulton Fish Market is a worldwide platform and a vessel of our city's culture, carrying the memories of four centuries. It should be considered a stage for innovation. To give in to the pressures of banal, unimaginative development is to give up our claim to our own history, our own identity. The act of preserving the market buildings is fundamentally and paradoxically more important than the buildings are themselves because it says something about our society: do we view the waterfront as a shared public space, or as the last frontier for high-rise Manhattan to expand? A public market is far more than a place to buy and sell food; and that is why a public market on this site carries so much meaning, beyond itself."

Like many of my peers, it is my hope that city government supports the approach of New Amsterdam Market, a not-for-profit, to re-develop the Fulton Fish Market and maintain it as a public market and civic space. Imagine, wouldn't it be wonderful for NYC if the area becomes designated as a "living legacy" by the UN World Heritage Sites program and is saved as an urban treasure for future generations of NYC citizens, as well as global visitors.

We need only look to other dynamic transformed civic spaces in the city -- such as the High Line, Union Square as home to the Greenmarket, Central Park, and La Marqueta market building as home to Hot Bread Kitchen, to name just a few -- to understand the multifold benefits that imaginative re-development has to offer our city moving forward.

NYC has the opportunity to be at the forefront of food systems planning. Let's put the right planners and leadership in place, not another mall with chain stores.


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