In 1939, a tony apartment building in New York City got a lease on land for a garden at $1.00 a year, to ease the pain of an eminent domain claim for a highway project. (New York highway czar Robert Moses was very solicitous of rich folks who were displaced by his projects. The less affluent weren't so favored -- the decline of the South Bronx was caused in large measure by his ill-chosen route for the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which he refused to consider despite massive community opposition. But that's another rant).
Skip a few decades later, to 1990, when the building's trustees noticed, to their general dismay, that the lease was running out. Their response? Rather than try to, say, renegotiate, they swore all apartment owners and prospective buyers to secrecy, and hoped no one would notice.
It worked... for three years, until Betsy Gotbaum, then parks commissioner, noticed. At that point, she may have had a few quiet conversations (her husband is an old friend of the building's president), and was apparently won over to the view that:
- Since I am told that this is one of the 10 best residential buildings in Manhattan, it does not make sense to me for the city to create an improvement that will decrease the property value of the residences.
And so, the rightful privilege of the people who paid millions of dollars and abased themselves before a famously snooty committee to get one of these apartments was preserved... until now. It seems that the highway underneath the garden is being repaired, and the highway repair bureaucrats are balking at restoring the private garden of some rich swells at public expense, particularly when they don't actually have any current legal right whatever to the land.
This isn't a partisan matter -- remember, the garden was preserved under Democrats in the early '90s (at the city, state, and national levels). In fact, some of the people in the building are no doubt Democrats themselves. Instead, it's a simple question of the privilege that has almost always accorded to rank in America, even if some of the more rank individuals in our society have found it inconvenient to discuss the matter in a few recent decades, with the result that the highway bureaucrats seem to have forgotten all about it.
What's the matter here? Don't these people know their place?
TSA link via Atrios