UPinion: What “Saving” Inwood Means To Me…

BY Jerry Christal

James A. Ridley - Selfless Selfies - NoMAA - Washington Heights - Dyckman - 1 Train

(Photo: James A. Ridley)

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.

A rendering of the development. Photo: KPA Architects

Sherman Plaza – A rendering of the development. (Photo: KPA Architects)

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.

Ninth Avenue (Photo: Adi Talwar)

Ninth Avenue (Photo: Adi Talwar)

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.

Diosnel Contreras plays with a friend on his block. (Photo: Devon Knight)

Diosnel Contreras plays with a friend on his block. (Photo: Devon Knight)

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.

Inwood Hill Park

Photo: Briana E. Heard

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.


Vote on hold: Council vote on Inwood rezoning postponed | Manhattan Times

Panning the Plaza plan | Manhattan Times

First Look: 4650 Broadway, 23-Story Apartment Building in Washington Heights | NY YIMBY

First project under city’s new housing policy prompts unease in community | Politico

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  • Mister Sterling
    August 10, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    The fact remains that Inwood eventually needs to be rezoned. So why don’t we push back and ask for a more unform proposal? How about R7D for the whole neighborhood? Simply rejecting the proposal over fears that rents will go higher is not a compelling argument for me, having been pushed out of Sunset Park Brooklyn due to a lack of zoning and higher rents. Rents aee going up all over Manhattan. Inwood is not supposed to be the one Manhattan neighborhood not to undergo change. Keeping it stuck in 1961 is pure fantasy. Let’s get someobe to make the case for rezoning on this site.

    • Fela Kuti Esq.
      August 11, 2016 at 1:45 am

      Mister Sterling, why is it a fact that Inwood must be rezoned? I dont see why Inwood must be rezoned, now. And prices are going up in Inwood too which is expected but that doesnt mean that the current zoning must be changed.

      • Mister Sterling
        August 12, 2016 at 11:53 am

        The most compelling argument in favor of rezoning is two-fold. First, there are far too many industrial lots east of broadway (car lots, auto maintenance, nightclubs, parking lots, car washes). If the market demands more housing, these lots would be candidates for new development. And second, rezoming is apparently required to build a public park along the Harlem River, one of the last undeveloped riverfronts in Manhattan. I am all for baby steps, so perhaps we should start with the river park on the east side.

  • Florence Christal
    August 10, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    A beautiful and touching article by a good man who has spent 35 years dedicated to the people and neighborhood of Inwood, making it a better place through his heartfelt and intelligent good works! Jerry Christal’s committment to the history of the neighborhood can only prove beneficial to it’s future.