OP-ED: When a community loses its pillars
By Bette Dewing
Too little considered is how the "small business" label doesn't really reflect the incalculable good these independent eateries and neighborhood stores do for big city life. "Community pillars" is more like it, a label we found in Danny Meyer's impassioned oh-so-welcome July 3rd Times op-ed, "There Goes the Neighborhood Café."
Meyer is the original and longtime proprietor of this community pillar, the Union Square Cafe, now threatened by a triple rent increase. Ah, but his patrons include many "power people," whom we hope will mount a crusade to stop the killing off of countless neighborhood community pillars - like most recently, the 50 year-old Soup Burg on Lexington Avenue. It's driven out of business not by sky-high rent hikes, but a landlord who says in essence, "Get out ! A bank's going in!" (If ever a landlord needed public shaming!)
These life and health-saving community pillars are needed as much, maybe more, than the widely recognized need for clean air. They offer intergenerational, affordable places to eat, shop and gather. It's a community need, not just a want, and a safety net for many without viable support systems. Neighborhood places make for a safer as well as a healthier community.
Okay, you know all that, but long overdue is all-out, big-time action to save and restore these places which meet essential everyday needs. First, we talk about it ? a lot ? and at civic and political meetings which, frankly, many more must attend, including the concerned who need help from the able-bodied to get there.
Push for all-out media involvement. Indeed, this paper deserves top honors for its comprehensive and continuing coverage. Access and share Meyer's op ed and call the Café (212-243-4020 )urging its powerful patrons to mount a real crusade, for starters, to establish a kind of London Rent Assessment Panel, which Meyer said "is credited with helping prevent the rapid erosion of that city's neighborhood fabric." Well, we can't afford any such erosion; we need restoration of those places we must all call "community pillars."
This must all become required reading, especially for policy-makers who still won't see the city's critical need for commercial rent regulations to save and restore these community pillars.
Ah, and the Second Avenue subway construction-besieged community pillars sure need artists to paint long-overdue murals on both sides of those grim subway construction walls. Murals facing the avenue side should portray each and every store and restaurant long hidden from Second Avenue view. And cover those walls facing these community pillars with idyllic city scenes, maybe of the nearby East River and Triborough Bridge and that lovely urban oasis, Carl Schurz Park. Portray whatever makes those now claustrophobic walkways inviting, so pedestrians will stop avoiding them. Add captions to remind the public that these community pillars need support to offset the heavy, even the lethal price they're paying, so New York will have another subway.
And let's get those Union Square Café author and publisher patrons to research and publish stories of the keen personal and other ongoing community losses caused by the wrongful death of these beloved community pillars.
So much more can and must be done, including that "shame the greedy landlord" campaign. Again, your ideas and involvement could not be more needed. And it "can be done" if enough of us try?
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