Plans to build a new 800-foot tower on East 58th Street, by New York property developer Gamma Real Estate, have faced well-funded opposition by a local community organisation known as the East River Fifties Alliance. The alliance spent upwards of $1 million, raised from crowdfunding, on land use attorneys and consultants who had previously worked for the Department of City Planning, to craft a proposal with the aim of stopping the development in its track.
Rarely has community oppositon to property development been so effective and well organised in not just attempting to combat the developers aim of seeking city approval, but also stopping the plans dead in its tracks - despite even facing oppostion from Mayor De Blasio.The Alliance aims to impose a zoning regulation known as 'tower on a base', which if implemented would restrict Gamma Real Estate to building half of the project below 150ft (instead of the initial proposal of 800ft).
The case of the East River Fifties Alliance demonstrates the effectiveness of social organisation against property developers whose sole purpose is maximising profit. City Planning must be a joint collaboration between developers, government and civil society to enable a more holistic approach to design which benefits and reflects the wider community.
The effectivness of civil society against large property developments in this case, is one of the first seen in New York. Will it be used as a point of inspiration around the world, encouraging communities to stand up against gentrification? Will it prompt local governments to collaborate with those developers inclined towards social inclusion - promoting civil cohesion - rather that those driven solely by profits?