The Vanishing City Vanish

The Vanishing City: The Documentary

Global trends in major cities around the world have changed rapidly in the last several decades. As cities become more interconnected, and less dependent on localized economic models, domestic issues of increased class inequality and sustainability have emerged as central components to city planning debates. These trends are perhaps best exemplified in the city of New York.

Told through the eyes of tenants, city planners, business owners, scholars, and politicians, The Vanishing City exposes the real politic behind the alarming disappearance of New York’s beloved neighborhoods, the truth about its finance-dominated economy, and the myth of “inevitable change.” Artfully documented through interviews, hearings, demonstrations, and archival footage, the film takes a sober look at the city’s “luxury” policies and high-end development, the power role of the elite, and accusations of corruption surrounding land use and rezoning. The film also links New York trends to other global cities where multinational corporations continue to victimize the middle and working classes.

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Currently, the city's frenetic luxury building pace has slowed due to the recession. Our film presents information to help people understand how it happened—in order to better think about what can be done before the building craze picks up again. There are communities that have been fighting back successfully. Below are some of the triumphs...

Click on the link to see the animation which explains the 421A Plan!

421A Simply explained


  • Landmark protections extended in the Far West Village, the Meatpacking District, the South Village -- far and away the largest expansions of landmark protections in our neighborhoods since the 1960s.
  • Proposed and successfully fought for zoning changes in the West and East Village, to prevent overdevelopment and keep new construction in character with the neighborhood.
  • Successfully pushed the City to expand landmarking proposals in the East Village, to ensure that key sites, streets, and buildings are not left out.
  • In the works: A community based proposal for a Chinatown/Lower East Side Special Zoning District.

Current Issues

  • Because of the 421A Plan, many owners of the highest-end luxury condos pay a far smaller percentage of taxes than other condo and co-op owners do.
    As Prices Soar to Buy a Luxury Address, the Tax Bills Don't/The New York Times
  • Court of Appeals backs a landlord loophole where they can evict rent-regulated tenants and claim full buildings for personal use.
    Source: New York State Senator Daniel L. Squadron
  • The Bloomberg administration backs eminent domain of Willets Point, taking land from hundreds of small and medium sized businesses with more than 15 thousands jobs at stake and giving it to wealthy developers to build a convention center.
  • 86 neighborhoods have been rezoned for development.
    Source: Planyc
  • Only 8% of housing that has been developed is affordable.
    Source: Pratt Institute for Community Development
  • Much of the new development either is partially occupied, sits empty, is partially developed or abandoned.
  • 3 billion in tax breaks doled out to corporations and upscale housing, while working class New Yorkers pay more than half their income in rent.
  • Small businesses and middle income New Yorkers are being priced out of the city at an unprecedented rate.
  • "Literally New York is losing African Americans. In the last five years there has been an exodus of 40,000 African Americans."
    —Darren Walker, Vice President, The Rockefeller Foundation
    During the Municipal Art Society event "Is New York Losing its Soul?"
  • Columbia University plans to seek eminent domain in order to expand their campus, which would displace 5,000 people and would include bulldozing the historic Cotton Club.
  • Luxury developers benefit from 421-a tax abatements - which cost the city $320 million in 2006   (Downtown express, volume 18 * Issue 49 April 2006)