20 years later: Things change
Twenty years ago, at the end of the first major Tompkins Square Park riots in recent history, East Village anti-gentrification activists wound up the harrowing night by trashing the lobby of the Christodora House. Protesters threw police sawhorses into the lobby while tossing potted plants out. The riots, which were put down with police brutality, marked a turning point Downtown and in the city for that matter.
Christodora is not what it was, nor is the rest of the East Village or the Lower East Side. Not all developers are bad. Back then, Christodora, a luxury development was the target. Anti-gentrification activists correctly saw the edge of the upscaling wave coming.
Today, Christodora is home to many anti-gentrification leaders including some members of the East Village Community Coalition, a group formed by Michael Rosen and others several years ago to battle Gregg Singer’s plan to tear down the neighboring old P.S. 64 and build a towering university dormitory. Despite valiant efforts, CHARAS/El Bohio — the old school building’s previous tenant — and its supporters were unable to save the building from Singer’s takeover. It took E.V.C.C. — admittedly a latecomer to the struggle — to get the old P.S. 64 landmarked, stymieing Singer’s dorm plan.
Recent protest marches led by a group dubbed the L.E.S. Slacktivists started out focusing on the Bowery Wine Club, a new bar, because it held a Young Republicans mixer. The Slacktivists have also decried the Economakises, the landlords at 47 E. Third St., for their plans to mass-evict the five-story building’s tenants to create a personal mansion.
Including many veteran squatters and activists from 1988, it’s not surprising that the nostalgic Slacktivists conclude all their marches outside Christodora House with chants of “Die Yuppie Scum!”
But their targeting of Rosen is, we feel, misguided. Rosen has bristled at their chants, for good reason. Large “Kill Yuppies” and “Eat the Rich” graffiti appeared on Christodora’s wallL
Although he did develop Red Square on E. Houston St., Rosen says he’s not technically a yuppie, since, well, for starters, he’s no longer young. As would anyone, he objects to his family members being called “scum,” especially the three young men from local housing projects whom he virtually adopted as his own sons, who lived in his house and who he is now putting through college.
Not only did Rosen and E.V.C.C. succeed in landmarking the old P.S. 64, that fight, in turn, led to the push to rezone the East Village and Lower East Side to cap building heights and stop oversized towers.
Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, things can get personal. Sometimes people may resent others who have the connections and the wherewithal to get things done. But it would be more constructive if people who care about their community — people like the Slacktivists and people like Rosen — could get together and work together.
Sure, some might get a rush in shouting “Die Yuppie Scum!” But to yell it at a guy who’s trying to make a difference, well, it’s just plain wrong.