Mayor Bill de Blasio appears to be ready to tangibly address “the Tale of Two Cities” narrative he campaigned on amending. His efforts are most obvious in housing and urban development. His administration has mandated that most new developments be mixed-income, usually with an 80-20 split between market-rate and low-income units. The workaround some developers have found is being called the poor door, and that is exactly what it is — a separate entrance for lower-income tenants.
The economics behind the dual door solution makes sense. The renters paying market rate for their apartments will still be drawn to the building for the amenities and prestige offered, much of which low-income renters will not have access to. The developers can market its product as a luxury while meeting the city’s mandate.
The poor door first came into public consciousness at the end of August, when developer Larry Silverstein, in plans for his 42-story apartment on the Upper West Side, revealed a proposed solution to the mixed-income mandate that de Blasio’s building plan presents.
In response to the public criticism of the poor door, Silverstein adjusted his original model. The developer has recently agreed to provide residents of the building’s lower-income portion access to the courtyard and rooftop deck. But, he has not yet approved a consolidation of the buildings entrances. He has agreed, however, to relocate the poor door from an alley to a park.
A poor door, no matter the location, contributes to unfair stratification. De Blasio’s efforts at urban progress do not necessitate economic segregation.
David Brooks, now a columnist for The New York Times, wrote a short essay for the Atlantic in 2003 called “People Like Us.” In it, he analyzes the hollowness of the conversation surrounding diversity, specifically cultural diversity. He writes, “The dream of diversity is like the dream of equality. Both are based on ideals we celebrate even as we undermine them daily.” Brooks provides examples of American institutions and places that celebrate diversity but do not actually have it in practice. He continues, “It is appalling that Americans know so little about one another. It is appalling that many of us are so narrow-minded that we can’t tolerate a few people with ideas significantly different from our own.” With the current poor door plan, no interaction between tenants of varying economic incomes will be required, despite living just a few floors apart.
On weekday mornings, as low- and high-income residents leave their shared building from separate doors, they are expelled onto the same street. Diversity is New York City’s appeal, and it is up to New Yorkers to ensure that it does not become superficial.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 15 print issue. Email Omar Etman at [email protected]