Over the weekend, The Times’ Metropolitan Section took on the dispute over the MTA’s planned expansion of the 68th St. subway station. As we know, Transit is planning to make this busy station ADA-accessible and an overall easier place to exit the system by building new entrances and some elevators at 69th Street, and the residents along one part of 69th St. doth protest too much.
Cara Buckley penned The Times’ take on the dispute, and it’s a perfectly sterile piece. Those crazy one-percenters, it seems to say. Here’s how Buckley writes it:
There is talk that the proposed newcomer will bring riffraff to the block, or rats or outdoor urinators. That things will be noisier. Squishier. That property values will drop. Such are the fears running along 69th Street near Lexington Avenue, home to the Union Club, neo-Georgian homes and carriage houses. They are fears normally associated with the less-charming realities of urban life, like a homeless shelter or a late-night dive bar. But in this case, they are focused on something quite different: new entrances to a subway station.
Some New Yorkers can only dream of having a subway train ferry them straight to their front door, but residents of East 69th Street say the entrances have no place on what they believe to be one of the prettiest streets around. They have formed a block association and hired lawyers, and they plan to tap an engineering firm to conduct transportation and environmental assessments that will likely show that the entrances can and should go elsewhere, or perhaps are not needed at all. Residents are feeling, in the words of one, “hysterical,” all the while trying to defuse charges of Upper East Side snobbery.
“It’s not as though any of us are sitting there riding around in limos and saying other people should ride the subways, like Marie Antoinette,” said Charles Salfeld, who has lived at the Imperial House on East 69th Street since 1976. “What we object to is this access to and from the subway done at the expense of the residential and pristine quality of 69th Street.”
Actually, that’s exactly what those folks said at previous meetings, and now they’re trying to backtrack. What Buckley only tip-toed around when describing a block a few feet from Lexington Ave. and Hunter College were the clear racial undertones of the residents’ statements. During an October meeting, one resident said “people to the west don’t take the subway. Not to be elitist, but they don’t.” In January, another said the new station would “attract people looking to hang out.”
Now that these East 69th St. residents had time to compose themselves, their language — still ludicrous — has lost its edge. They speak of rolling a bowling ball down the block at night without hitting anything. They call the MTA’s new “absolutely preposterous” and worry about property values which will somehow go down with better subway access. They’ve lawyered up and toned it down.
This story runs deeper than just some neighborhood opposition to a new subway entrance. It’s about a group of people who think they’re better than everyone else and want to keep their quote-unquote pristine block of urban space shoved between Lexington and Park Avenues in Manhattan, the nation’s most densely populated area, to themselves. This isn’t a quaint dispute with some self-centered Upper East Siders. It’s elitism, classism and maybe even some racism at its worst, and that deserves attention.