Hearing for jail devolves into accusations of racism and fairness

The city’s racial dynamic was on full display last night at a presentation and CB1 hearing for the proposed jail on White Street, with a largely black audience demanding support for the plan, and the largely white and Asian local residents demanding the community board vote no.

Observers said this was mild compared to other hearings in other boroughs, but by my standards, this was pretty tense, with people yelling over each other, pointing fingers and making accusations. I think you can put away terms like “mild” or “simmering.”

The “dialog,” shouted out over the committee’s process, went something like this: On the city’s side was a group of mostly men wearing “CloseRikers” T-shirts and yelling things like, “Somebody you know is going to be in that shit” – I think meaning the jail. And on the opposing side, arguing that the city should build its jail elsewhere, were folks yelling, “You care more about the fucking people in the prison than the people in the neighborhood.” Which I think was exactly the other guy’s point.

That’s a bit of the flavor. I couldn’t bear to stay till the end, which would have made for a four-hour meeting. But the main issue to me was stated most clearly by Board 1 member Alice Blank, who essentially asked, “where’s the beef?” and got several rounds of applause from the packed house. The city’s presentation shows no more detail than it did last month, with a back-of-the-napkin plan for the jail that essentially shows a 450-foot-tall grey rectangle hovering over White Street. Paul Goldstein also noted that while the other borough proposals have the same number of beds, ours seems to have more bulk.

The phrase I am waiting to hear is “adaptive reuse.” It’s my feeling that the neighborhood does not oppose a jail – after all, the Tombs are there now. What they oppose is several years – or more! – of a city-run construction project overlooking one of the denser neighborhoods in the city, and one that is aging in place, making the neighborhood even more vulnerable. Look at how long it’s taken the city to redo Worth Street. What will it take for them to build a 1.4-million-square-foot tower??

None of the details have changed since my last post, but the city did confirm that the plan will demap White Street so they can build above and below it, but leave it open for pedestrians.

UPDATE: Diana Switaj at CB1 did a close read for me of the draft EIS and if their numbers are right, the proposed jail will be THREE TIMES the size of the two buildings — 124 and 125 White — there now. This is what she found: “The site contains MDC, which consists of a 9-story North Tower and a 14-story South Tower with approximately 435,000 gsf of court and detention center uses and 898 beds for people in detention.” That is a whopper.



  1. This is not a NIMBY issue as we aldready have The Tombs. This issue is that they want to build a monstrosity that will dwarf both Chinatown and Tribeca. This development will be terrible for both neighborhoods as it will add no value, depress property values and increase the already terrible traffic.
    As for Riker’s, it’s consensus that it is a terrible place, but to spend $11 billion and destroy other nighrhoods instead of fixing the problem makes no sense. Even Judge Lippman, whose report the project proponents use as a foundation to their arguments disagrees with the monolith they want to build In our neighborhood. We need to make our voices heard to Margaret Chin and let our politicians know that we don’t want our neighborhoods ruined so some real estate developers get to make Riker’s into their next major multi billion dollar development in NYC.

    Margaret Chin
    District Office
    101 Lafayette St, 9th Floor
    New York, NY 10013
    212-587-3159 phone

    Legislative Office
    250 Broadway, Suite 1762
    New York, NY 10007
    212-788-7259 phone

  2. “It’s my feeling that the neighborhood does not oppose a jail – after all, the Tombs are there now.”

    Some of us in the neighborhood definitely oppose expanding the jail. For all the reasons mentioned and more. The scale of the building compared to the neighborhood; concern about safety; yes, the construction nightmare; traffic; noise pollution (imagine how many more sirens and car horns will fill the air?); the ugliness of such a structure; the extreme cost to taxpayers, billions of dollars; doubt that this will solve an of the problems (violence, corruption, etc.) of Rikers, and will instead just relocate those same problems without improvements; etc.

  3. Let’s assume Rikers needs to close and let’s assume borough jails are better and ought to be located close to the courts. The question still remains as to why to locate such an enormous facility in this area of the neighborhood. Surely there are other options. Why not between Police Plaza and the Municipal Building, an area that is effective shut to the public. Tear down Tweed.

    This is possibly one of the worst locations to place this proposed facility. It is probably one of areas with the highest population density in the city. Construction congestion during development and increased traffic after opening will make an already strained area even worse. Try driving up Centre with double parked police cars and buses, to Canal and down Baxter to Bayard Street (narrow streets, jammed with cars, including police cars). Try that now, and while sitting in traffic, think about how much worse it will be. Try crossing around Canal, Baxter and Walker without being rushed, honked at or nearly hit. Layer that on top of the fact that this proposed facility is next senior housing and a park used by children and seniors. Then, add to it all of the street closures — Park Row, Mulberry Street during parts of the summer and during other festivals, Chinatown during the New Year. This will be a mess.

    To round this off, to note that the eastern portion of White Street will be de-mapped is absurd… it is already closed to vehicular traffic so the higher ups can have their precious parking spots.

  4. What Adam says about spending billions to destroy other neighborhoods instead of fixing the real problem is spot on. The mismanagement of Rikers isn’t being resolved, it’s just being relocated. This is the work of politicians who are looking for a quick win. Politicians who can say, I closed Rikers, I helped transform the incarceration problem in NYC (but you really didn’t), and then move on to their next political ambition.

    Do they even care about the well being of the neighborhood? The quality of life for the current residents? Why should criminals have precedence over those who have committed no crime? To truly understand what they’re asking the community for, these politicians should be the ones to live through the coming years of relentless construction, traffic jams, sirens, increased crime, an exodus of local businesses and families, and watch the neighborhood fall apart.

    What’s also telling is the silence from major media outlets. There’s been absolutely no reporting that a 1.4 million square foot jail is being proposed for downtown Manhattan. Why are only hyper local media outlets reporting on this? The economic and quality of life impact that this proposed jail warrants substantial coverage. I can’t help but think that it’s because the location of the proposed jail is between Tribeca and Chinatown.