The Real Deal New York

Editor’s note: The melting pot, boiling over

By Stuart Elliott | August 01, 2014 07:00AM
Stuart Elliott

Stuart Elliott

The constant juxtaposition of different types of people is part of what makes city life so interesting.

But different social forces coming together in New York can end up either looking like a coordinated symphonic dance or an all-out battle. Those unique forces colliding is the focus of a bunch of our stories this month.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, these tensions seem particularly front and center right now.

The interplay between the rich and poor, living side-by-side, is perhaps the most delicate of these issues. And the debate over so-called “poor doors” — separate entrances for those paying market rate and “affordable” units in the same buildings — is receiving considerable attention.

Some public officials expressed outrage last month after the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation Development approved an Extell Development project at 40 Riverside Boulevard that has such separate entrances. The de Blasio administration is seeking to eliminate the policy, a holdover from the Bloomberg era, for future projects.

De Blasio swept into office on a promise to shrink the gap between the rich and poor. He is now creating a large amount of affordable housing, limiting rent hikes and taking other measures to execute that promise. This month, we take a look at how the editorial boards at the city’s major newspapers have greeted the mayor’s real estate initiatives so far. We also profile Carl Weisbrod, the new City Planning chief, who is tasked with implementing de Blasio’s mandatory inclusionary zoning policy — which to many developers’ dismay requires them, rather than incentivizes them, to build affordable housing at projects that benefit from a rezoning.

Of course, being a melting pot for different religions and cultures also gives New York its unique identity. Those forces have arguably clashed nowhere in recent years as publicly as they have near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan.

A few years back, developer Sharif El-Gamal’s plans for an Islamic cultural center blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks drew vehement critics and equally vocal supporters. Now, after the firestorm, El-Gamal is closing in on plans to build a scaled-down Islamic museum designed by starchitect Jean Nouvel as well as a 39-story luxury condo tower next door. In “Behind Sharif El-Gamal’s new Park Place plan,” we look at the evolution of El-Gamal’s project, including all the factors, from religion to luxury housing, that led to the version he is planning today. And in a sign of just how distant a memory that firestorm now is, he even has Upper East Side doyenne Elizabeth Stribling marketing his condo tower.

Overall, the tolerance of socio-economic differences in present-day New York is a great thing for developers. (If you think back to the days of the Crown Heights riots in the early 1990s, you’ll recall that New York wasn’t always this way.)

Given the safer reality in the city, people are more open to living in any neighborhood. As a result, you can get a Pritzker Prize–winning architect like Zaha Hadid building a futuristic-looking and super-luxe condo tower down the street from a Scores strip club and a block from a city housing project. Or a media mogul like Rupert Murdoch spending more than $50 million for a condo aerie at One Madison next to Madison Square Park (an area that fabulously rich buyers of his ilk would never have considered in the past.) These projects would have never been built if all of the wealthy people in Manhattan were still clustered en masse on the Upper East Side, as was historically the case.

And, of course, wealthy buyers are also heading to Brooklyn, in a trend that seems to be gaining more steam daily. In our main cover package, we look at the latest benchmark-setting residential deals and listings, the most active developers and the biggest brokerages in the borough.

And if you just want to take a short break from the city, check out “Living large: A rundown of the most expensive home listings in the U.S.,” where we look at the priciest homes on the market in the rest of the U.S., comparing them to their New York City counterparts. Maybe there are more trees (and scenic beauty overall) in places like Montana and Colorado, but the jostling of different people and views makes New York far more interesting and desirable.

Enjoy the issue.