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Right about now, the world’s best architects should be elbowing each other out of the way in a rush to New York. The city is primed for another golden age, not just of designer skyscrapers and expanding museums, but of rental buildings where ordinary New Yorkers can live without pawning a kidney. We have a cause, a need, political energy, and a pot of money. What’s missing is any sense that the residential towers and mid-rise blocks that will be popping up in the coming years need to be any good.
As Mayor de Blasio’s team fans out to sweet-talk community boards, cajole councilmembers, and admonish developers into embracing his affordable-housing plan, the talk is all about numbers: units (a.k.a. “apartments”) and costs, incomes and rents. The administration nods to design in its stirringly titled manifesto “Zoning for Quality and Affordability,” which would revive the stoop and dole out a few extra floors to senior centers. But the housing crisis gives de Blasio a chance to do more than tweak: He could outline the next great iteration of New York and make compassion concrete.
Once again, an alliance of officials, do-gooders, and profiteers is reshaping the city by providing homes that non-rich New Yorkers can pay for: 80,000 new apartments in a decade, according to the de Blasio administration’s ambitions, plus another 120,000 rent-regulated apartments snatched from the market’s maw. And yet the system that the mayor is kicking into gear was built to defeat excellence. Many builders and officials believe that architecture is one amenity too many for a below-market rental building — that good design is a sentimental luxury. […]