New York Voices

Many city planners and architects see taller buildings and more densely packed neighborhoods as the best solution for the city’s housing crisis.   New Yorkers have mixed reactions to the strategy.


Olive Freud, Math Teacher

To Olive Freud, the city’s magic lies in its old buildings – not in soulless new towers that “take the sun away.”

Freud, a retired math teacher who organized the Recycled Building Exhibit in 1995 to promote the beauty of New York’s old buildings, has been living on the Upper West Side for 50 years.

She doesn’t like what has happened to her neighborhood and to the city as a whole. “This area used to be a very nice residential neighborhood, very attractive with intellectual people who have been pushed out.”

New construction has changed its character, she said. “It is not about quality, but it is only about money.”  — Valentina Cordero

Lindsay Franconi

Lindsay Franconi’s brown French bulldog is comfortable sitting quietly beneath her seat as she makes her commute from Brooklyn to midtown each morning.

“It’s funny how people react,” she said. “A lot of times people think he’s just a regular dog.”

But Henry is more than just a companion. He is a service dog trained to help Franconi with severe anxiety.

Franconi, who until a few weeks ago took the jammed L train from Brooklyn to her job at a pet product design company, would often have to wait for two or three trains to pass before she and Henry were able to board.

Once on the train, they would struggle to find space. “There’s been a couple times when I’ve had to say, ‘Stop stepping on my dog,’” she said.

Now she takes the M, where she said there are smaller crowds and more space for her and Henry.   “It’s better,” she said. “But it’s getting more crowded too.” — Mark Fahey

Ikhwan Rim, Owner of Rim’s Fine Jewelry, Flushing

Ikhwan Rim, 42, is the third in a generation of jewelry store owners. His grandfather had a business in Seoul, South Korea, and his father opened the locale in Queens that Rim now runs. Rim’s business is one of nearly 100 shops located on a single block of Union Street close to the Flushing Commons site.

He is the president of the Union Street Small Business Association, which protested the Flushing Commons development.

Rim is worried about his shop and other small businesses being pushed out by Flushing Commons and is frustrated the city sold a municipal parking lot for a private development. “Private land, fine, you do whatever you want. But this wasn’t private land, you’re selling to developers and hurting the businesses,” Rim said. —  María Villaseñor

Isabel Madden

Isabel Madden has been living near Columbus Circle for 37 years. She loathes the way the neighborhood is now dominated by high-rises. “I hate what is happening. This is Michael Bloomberg’s gift,” she said.

The Time Warner Center building’s construction brought the concept of “mall” into her neighborhood, Madden said, attracting crowds and generating noise. Increasingly, Columbus Circle resembles Times Square, she said.

Billionaires have taken over the area, and the agencies that are supposed to protect  residents  are not fulfilling their obligations, Madden said. She is sad about the way the piano stores have disappeared from West 57th St. “57th Street was well known for its musical and artistic history,” she said. — Valentina Cordero

Photo by Isabel Madden.

Nick and Marissa Kohn

So long, hour-long commute, cramped housing and the constant sound of cars honking. After an 11-year wait, actor Nick Kohn and his wife Marissa finally moved into a high-rise sanctuary on West 43rd Street last month.

“It’s funny because all of those issues making me crazy every day have disappeared here,” Kohn said.

The “Avenue Q” performer, 38, and his playwright wife, 33, now live in Manhattan Plaza, a federally subsidized development of two 46-story buildings that houses about 3,500 tenants—all artists.

They pay 30 percent of their income, which means they have the freedom to take on passion projects. They don’t have to pay for Metrocards because the theater world’s at their doorstep.

They left behind Washington Heights, where they lived with a roommate, and now pay $1,545 for their 33rd-floor one-bedroom with a balcony view of the Hudson River.

Marissa said one of her first Manhattan apartments was a one-bedroom split by a curtain. She and her sister shared one side and three other women were on the other.

“I think you put up with a lot living in New York because the payoff is so amazing,” she said. — María Villaseñor

His-Pei LiaoHsi-Pei Liao, Families For Safe Streets

Hsi-Pei Liao always thought that bustling city streets and erratic traffic were just part of living in New York City – until his 4-year old-daughter was killed by a car.

Liao’s daughter, Allison, and 71-year-old mother were crossing the street in Flushing, Queens, on October 6,when a driver came barreling through the crosswalk, running over the child and and injuring her grandmother.

“As much as I want to kill him, I don’t want to say ‘Blame the driver,’ because he is a human too,” Liao said.

The driver, Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha, had alcohol in his system but it was under the legal limit. In New York State, drivers can only typically be charged with vehicular homicide or manslaughter if they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident.

Abu-Zayedeha received two summonses, one for failing to exercise due care, and one for failing to yield to a pedestrian.

Since the tragedy Liao has become an active member of Families For Safe Streets, a pedestrian safety activist organization lobbying for a local speed limit of 20 miles per hour and harsher penalties on drivers involved in fatalities.  — Rebecca Harris


Robert Samuel, Owner, Sold Inc.

After he was laid off from a job at AT&T, Robert Samuel put an ad on Craigslist, offering to wait in line for the new iPhone 5 for $100. Eighteen hours later he had $325 in his pocket and an idea. From there his business, Sold Inc. was born. Now, his team of more than 15 employees waits for “Saturday Night Live” tickets or the latest Nike Air Jordans for New Yorkers who don’t want to put up with the city’s maddening lines. Samuel, 38, charges $25 for the first hour and $10 for each additional half-hour.


He believes New York is the perfect place for this kind of service because the fast pace of life makes time invaluable, and there are plenty of people who will pay for the services they want. “I had a gentleman who I delivered cronuts to. He wanted to deliver one cronut to each of his girlfriends. He said, ‘Please don’t let the other one know about the other delivery.’” — Madison Hartman

John Choe, Director of One Flushing

John Choe, 43, is a Korean immigrant who moved to Flushing 20 years ago and has become a prominent neighborhood activist. He believes Flushing’s cultural diversity and dense development create opportunities that would not exist elsewhere in the city.


“For people outside of Flushing, who don’t know what’s going on here, they have a very shallow understanding,” he said. “Some catchphrases I hear about Flushing are ‘It’s just another Chinatown’ or just another ghetto or ethnic enclave. Those terms are really marginalizing and don’t appreciate the full dynamic of the people who live and work here.”  — Meral Agish

Rachelle Anthony, Co-op City

Rachelle Anthony knows what it’s like to live in high-rise developments –and she doesn’t think they’re the best solution to the city’s housing needs.

Anthony, 48, lives in a townhouse in Co-op City, the Bronx, surrounded by 25 high-rises. Her last home was in a Mitchell Lama development in East Harlem, where she lived on the 12th floor and her sister lived in the same building on the 29th floor.

“I really don’t like living in a massive complex like Co-op City because with too many people living in a complex, you have many problems!” she said.

She cited elevator breakdowns, the slow pace of repairs and the likelihood of some troublesome neighbors. “The only advantage of living in a high-rise building is the scenic views,” Anthony said, but she added that the towers ruin the views for everyone who doesn’t live in them. “High-rises destroy our scenery as well as nature.

Yes, New York City does need affordable housing, but New York City does not need any more affordable housing tower complexes.”


Population Density (per acre) in NYC