BY Jerry Christal
Much has been written, discussed, and argued recently regarding the proposed rezoning of the Packard Building on Sherman Ave & Broadway. For those who don’t know, this proposal, the first rezoning in Inwood since 1961, is to allow a new, tall, expensive building to replace the existing, neglected structure. This will certainly cause rents in Inwood to increase more rapidly than their current pace, which will certainly price many current or future hopeful residents out. This will also cause commercial rents to increase, forcing many small business owners to move or close, some of whom have been in Inwood for generations.
This proposed change in rezoning is not a one-time event. It implies the acceptance of rezoning as a tool for all those who put money before the value of community. The proposed rezoning is disrespectful to everyone who calls Inwood home. It discounts and forgets the past. It disregards those who kept Inwood from burning like the south Bronx during the hard times. The very notion that our representatives would consider this and not immediately shut it down based on what forced changes it will cause the neighborhood and residents makes me question their priorities and interests.
This proposal should be rejected and a message should be conveyed to anyone looking at Inwood, to see the people who have always made it special and not potential dollar signs. Not surprisingly, there is a call to “save” Inwood. I want to add my two cents by expressing what it means to me to “save” Inwood and why Inwood should be “saved”.
A little background: For those who don’t know me, I own an insurance agency and driving school on 212th & Broadway. I am a third generation Inwood business owner. My grandparents opened their driving school on Sherman & 207th in 1965 followed by their kids starting their insurance agencies in the same space. Years later the tradition of owning a small business in Inwood passed to me. What also passed to me was a love and appreciation for the neighborhood that enabled this “American Dream” to happen.
My grandparents were first generation Americans and were living in the Sedgwick housing projects with my mom and uncle when they opened their driving school. It doesn’t escape me that this same story is told by many who find their way to Inwood. Since the opulent country estates were replaced by apartment buildings and the subway lines connected Northern Manhattan to the rest of the city over 100 years ago, Inwood has been a good, affordable location for people to live. It’s that combination of good and affordable that makes Inwood worth saving. Many places are one or the other but few places are both.
The combination is what makes Inwood the landing neighborhood for many who arrive in New York or even the U.S. for the first time. This combination has continuously allowed the next group of immigrants to live in Manhattan, near parks and transportation as well as allowed people trying to make their lives better to open businesses to pass to their kids and grandkids. Inwood residents take pride in caring about our community. In Inwood, we actually communicate and spend time with our neighbors.
The changes and gentrification coming to Inwood are unstoppable. Maybe they shouldn’t be stopped. I have heard many people say that these changes are inevitable. Probably true. But what hasn’t changed for over 100 years is that this special, unique neighborhood is good and affordable. It’s not realistic or wise to think that rents will never rise, or that demographics will stay frozen. Change has always come to Inwood, but it wasn’t forced. The changes came gradually, as they were needed with each new group of people that found their way to Inwood.
Saving Inwood means saving what Inwood provides: a neighborhood with great parks and spacious apartments for families, convenient public transit for commuters, a starting point for many first arriving here and all this with reasonable affordability. To take away the affordability is to kill what is special about Inwood by only making it available to those with deep pockets, those that never dared come near Inwood, let alone call it home.