Open Your Eyes to OpenNewYork

Open Your Eyes to OpenNewYork

Just who are these Yimby lobbyists behind the push to rezone Soho and Noho?

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call to rezone Soho and Noho seems more like Blaz’s desperate, last-year-in-office, attempt to appease his real estate developer donors more than it does any sincere step towards providing truly affordable housing to working New Yorkers.

And this rushed push to upzone two industrial, historical and particularly unique downtown Manhattan neighborhoods has found its ultimate cheerleader in Yimby [“yes in my backyard”] group Open New York.

But who exactly is Open New York, aka ONY?

Self-describing as an “all-volunteer group advocating for abundant homes and lower rent,” ONY certainly presents itself benignly enough as it implores, with sad dog eyes, for you to be its neighbor.

But the barest scratch beneath the ONY surface reveals a laser-focused real estate development agenda steered by a vigorous yet small troupe of garrulous and snippy professionals who are mostly men, mostly younger than middle-aged and majority white.

Initially naming itself “More New York,” Open New York was “started in a basement in Murray Hill in 2016” by “Quantitative Real Estate Investor” Ben Thypin, and grew into an incorporated nonprofit in January 2020, making it eligible for tax-exempt status with New York State (although no 990 filing appears to be currently publicly available regarding the group’s not-for-profit viability).

Perchance to strategically distance himself, founder Thypin has since stepped down as a founding ONY board member, but on paper only, as the optics of him having such a seat might begrime that ONY fallacy of equitable housing and “lower rent.” Born into steel industry wealth, Thypin arranges multi-million-dollar real estate deals as a developer with a penchant for Lower Manhattan properties, like his company Quantierra’s management of the $30 million sale of 64 Washington Street.

And what exactly is Yimby?

Yimby is the pro-gentrification movement and clapback to its older Nimby opposition, composed of what used to be the 1960s/1970s “not in my backyard” racist Archie Bunker stalwarts opposing any potential real estate development in their area. The Yimby movement, not just in NYC but nationally too, claims to be about housing equity thus the potential insidiousness lies in its promoters flying under the radar as well-meaning “housing activists” who portray themselves as cute, fun and accessible. Twitter usernames include avocado emojis (“hey! healthiness!”) and/or bike emojis (“hey! small carbon footprint! awesomeness!”) to enhance this manipulated semblance of niceness and/or normalcy.

These members and supporters work diligently, while not always that successfully, to present a neutral and friendly front despite their thick, obvious, and undeniable ties to the real estate industry which belie their alleged better intentions; their act has fallen so flat with others that the frequently-employed avocado has been viewed as a “political emoji.”

A false narrative perpetuated by Yimby is that all Nimbys are wealthy, elderly, elitist and racist homeowners, but in truth the modern Nimbys’ cultural alignment has morphed more into what the hippy artistic 70s Yimbys of yore used to be: Nimbys now are politically progressive, socially open and include many renters, including older, working-class-income creatives with stabilized leases.

I first came across ONY, and subsequently Yimby, only last year during the spring and summer of 2019 when its membership had cultivated and promoted the campaign of Long Island City resident and ONY member Justin Potter, an openly pro-AmazonHQ2, pro-development candidate for Queens District 12 State Senate, challenging infamous “Amazon Slayer” Michael Gianaris. Potter, a 20-year-voting Republican, had changed parties so to run against Democrat Gianaris but the former’s quiet and inconsequential campaign ended with Potter dropping out even before the race’s June 2020 Democratic Primary.

But what had stuck out most in Potter’s lackluster crusade were his honkingly loud Yimby supporters, including the real-estate-industry-aligned consortium ONY: a Greek chorus of earnest urbanists mocking Jane Jacobs; advocating to turn NYC into a modern Asian municipality and scoffing at concepts like “neighbor character” and “historical value.”

Although mostly not from NYC, ONY affiliates nonetheless claim that New Yorkers “view themselves as separate from and superior to other Americans.” They even have a snarky book club where they enjoy “salty” discourse about supposedly “characterless” brownstones: they even publicly cheer when NYC brownstones are demolished.

I was stunned to read such discourse.

My NYC childhood had been heavily peppered with the squawks of adults who had never gotten over what had been the recent destruction of the old, iconic, airy Pennsylvania Station, occurring the year before I was born. The former Penn Station’s demolition horrified NYC (and rest of the world), and birthed the local landmark and preservation movement the year after I was born. I have always been in love with New York City and have long felt protective of its old, glorious structures, appreciating their history, significance and beauty along with the fathoming that once something beloved is gone, it is gone forever.

I had figured preserving New York history, especially its architecture, would never be threatened again.

But then along came NYC Yimby Daddy Nikolai Fedak.

It was Fedak who coined the concept that NYC preservationists were selfish: “There’s a lot of hatred of development out there,” he declared about Nimbys in 2014. “But generally it comes from selfish people who don’t want to lose their views.”

Selfish is a purposeful and deliberate word choice and is also the hook upon which every Yimby persists on hanging their primary argument: they are “hated!” by “selfish people!” By alleging it is not sentimentality which endears people to their environment and physical surroundings but rather narcissism, self-absorption and an absence of empathy, Yimby attempts to pivot the aesthetic appreciation argument to a character flaw. The tactic depicts Nimby as lacking decency, being morally inept, even racist, simply because Nimbys enjoy and celebrate specific places and neighborhoods; this enjoyment is viewed as selfish and perpetuating prejudiced practices.

This is the only way Yimby and ONY know how to defend their argument for development: their opponents are immoral while they, themselves, are not.

The argument against aesthetics is an unworthy argument. Winston Churchill celebrated the delight of humans experiencing architecture: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

Because aesthetic appreciation, or the lack thereof, is a matter of taste, not morals. It is a perception, not a moral flaw, by where one conceives of preference and of appeal: aesthetic inclination is more opinion than feeling; it is what a person likes and to which they are drawn and cannot be utilized in good faith against any person because none of us have any control over what we love.

We cannot help to which we react, to which we are attracted, those sights we love, the places which inspire us. ONY and Yimby strive to use that against us. So if you find yourself fancying a building for your entire lifetime or being awed by the expanse of sky or feeling a strong, primal attachment to a geographic area, you are perceived, strategically and deliberately, by this small group as “being selfish.” An intentional and purposeful strategy: you are selfish while they, by default, are not. The Yimby “I’m good! You’re bad!!” strategy also allows for the morphing of the accusation of “selfish” slapped onto Nimbyism to start wearing more sinister coats: “horrible” is commonly used by this faction as well, as are “immoral,” “racist,” and “classist.”

A fight for the city’s architectural posterity is neither “woefully out of touch” nor an “extremely myopic prioritizing [of a] sense of aesthetics over other New Yorkers’ housing.”

It is not selfish nor trite nor superficial to experience aesthetic appreciation: it is human. But ONY narrowly depicts its Nimby opposition, as all “wealthy homeowners who… seek to maintain ethnic and class composition [while] selfishly trying to thwart development… over parochial concerns like aesthetics and shadows.”

It is bad faith to either blame, or read more into, the human inclination of the appreciation of beauty.

But bad faith is all that Yimby, and Open New York, bring to the table.

It shouldn’t matter that ONY and their supporters are, like Potter and Thypin, mostly in their 30’s, most male, mostly white and mostly not from NYC, but that materiality is nonetheless their own glaring reality. Composed solely of highly educated, multi-degree-earning individuals, ONY is deeply aligned with NYC real estate development although it hotly protests not to be. Thypin even plays defensive victim crying poor when confronted on his background and financial success.

The smokescreen ONY creates, and then hides behind, is an alleged advocation of housing and a claim there are not enough homes for NYC residents, which is complete balderdash. They pretend not to be wealthy and privileged while whiningly accusing any opposition of being exactly that: wealthy and privileged. Deliberately and strategically, they falsely characterize Nimbys to be old, white, wealthy, cheap, immoral, selfish and racist: all Nimbys are the same to them, one big tenet in their quite flawed argument.

And with ONY, it isn’t just their insincere platform: it’s their conduct. Bad faith arguing is born out of desperation, which can be tough to discern when the manner of conduct is so brash and confident.

ONY board members include the easily annoyed Jake Schmidt, good cop/bad faith debater Will Thomas, native Illinoian Dan Miller and recent Columbia University public affairs grad Kyle Dontoh. Its more vocal members are the sanctimonious and damning Pennsylvanian native Mike Cherepko, the aforementioned New Jersey native founder Thypin, Southern Californian transplant Spencer Heckwolf, Philadelphia-raised Stephen Smith, aka Twitter urbanist celebrity Market Urbanism (who is also Thypin’s employee), and their lawyer, Sullivan and Cromwell land use attorney Charley Dorsaneo.

As a lobbying entity, ONY presents a threat to New York City historical landmarking and preservation as they aim to abolish landmarking preservation in the name of racism. But ONY’s motivation goes way beyond standing up to racism just like the issue of racist housing practices spread way beyond redlining and historical preservation.

It is the behavior, comportment and type of engagement exhibited by the ONY crew which screams louder than their anti-racist rhetoric: they are, as individuals and together, a group of purposefully impatient, condescending, exaggerative (dishonest) bullies with no productive, civic or good faith engagement.

Cherepko, long known for his bad attitude (of which he is quite proud) and his moral judgment, doesn’t care if the proposed Elizabeth Street Garden replacement housing stays affordable in the future: which is odd for the guy who’s fighting for it, all in the name of affordable housing.

ONY board member Miller’s piece to support urban density rests on his sole argument that Nimby objections to gentrification should be answered with a toddleresque and astonishingly obtuse retort of “tough.” No logic, no facts, no math: just “tough.”

ONY knows me, too: founder Thypin grumbled about my speaking at the January 2020 Manhattan Community Board 2 meeting and took issue with my presence at the meeting but had no comment on what I had specifically stated; I was faulted solely for having attended. Waterfront developer Thypin had no defense for what I said, he was only angry that I said the words, that I showed up.

I had also dared to confront ONY board member Schmidt on Twitter about a resoundingly abhorred project in Sunnyside, Queens, the notorious Phipps proposal at 50-25 Barnett Avenue, only to experience the signature and oft-practiced pile-on of a dozen Yimbys jumping in to accuse me of hating poor people and of being an immoral person. It was a conversation which started at 9am and lasted through the whole day until after 8pm: that is how they operate; they’ll take hours working on one person, trying to exhaust them, trying to get a bad reaction out of them, deliberately and habitually.

City officials have also sparred with ONY members. Lower Manhattan District Leader Paul Newell’s tweet thread on Thypin’s history and behavior is gloriously thorough and revealing. Committeman Ben Yee called them out for the same pile on treatment I received.

ONY and Yimby are intrigued by the idea of being perceived as thought leaders and world changers and they are eager for a substantial win: knocking down the Elizabeth Street Garden is seen as important and urgent to them. They don’t care how much the community loves this space: they care about winning; they crave a psychological conquest and they want to be victorious over Soho. This has never been about what the community wants for them: they loudly advocate that the community shouldn’t even have a voice (they feel they should have a voice but not the residents who actually live in the area).

One challenge we do not need now, especially as we endure the covid19 pandemic, is a Yimby apocalypse. The last thing we need are more new buildings, more empty luxury tax-break structures and more of the exasperated youthful white males who support their construction.

We face extraordinary times and we need perchance very un-American approaches, like a socialist methodology for emergency housing needs along with rent and mortgage forgiveness and universal basic income. These are uncomfortable constructs: I appreciate how traditional capitalists balk at such concessions but we still need to consider them because rampant construction has never been the answer.

ONY and Yimbys come up short on any answers for NYC, especially regarding its historic districts. ONY’s flimsy claims about creating less racist living standards are revealed as false by expiration-dated affordable housing which will revert to luxury units within one generation. The effort to upzone Soho by angry young transients is not what NYC architecture and history needs or even deserves.

Open your eyes to Open New York: New York City can do so much better.

Postscript: It seems I misunderstood Ben Thypin’s mention of his “ancestral homeland of LIC:” how foolish of me to have drawn the conclusion that he was, indeed, from Queens. Mr. Thypin, is in fact, not from New York but rather New Jersey, a detail which I have amended above. But the fact that Thypin, along with the rest of his small knot of Yimby proponents, is not from NYC even more weakens and diminishes his argument to destroy this city in the name of his own profit.

My Year of Blocking Dangerously

It has been one year since my Twitter account was suspended. It was a jarring experience for me which unfortunately changed my behavior and engagement on my favorite platform.

It also turned me into a blocker.

Before this incident, I had prided myself on not blocking back those who had blocked me so to keep my content available for view to anyone, especially to those who had obstructed my view of their content.

And I had been blocked by some high profile pork: Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times investigative reporter Serge Kovaleski, perhaps best known for having been disability-shamed by Donald Trump; Amazon’s Global Head of Public Policy Brian Huseman; Yimby blogger Market Urbanism, aka Stephen Smith; and xenophobic Trump supporter and onetime comedienne Roseanne Barr. Roseanne had blocked me for calling her a racist and the other three had blocked me over my anti-Amazon HQ2 stance.

But I never had blocked back. I had no reason to.

Until my account got suspended.

I had realized something might be wrong in the late afternoon of Friday, October 4, 2019 as I scampered out my front door for a meet&greet I had organized for New York District 12 congressional candidate Lauren Ashcraft: the Twitter app on my phone wasn’t loading. I closed it and reopened it several times. It was frozen.

At first, as I raced down towards Northern Boulevard, I had wondered if Twitter itself was down but a quick check on a separate browser confirmed my daunting suspicion that nothing was wrong with the site itself and that my account seemed to have been suspended.

I had been suspended once before, a few months earlier during the summer in 2019 but it was more of a “limitation:” a 12-hour timeout doled to me for my tweet to a white nationalist, threatening to report their racist rhetoric. That tweet of mine had somehow got *me* reported instead and I was placed in Twitter jail where I had received an explanation of the “temporary limitations” I would endure for the determined half day sentence, along with an ever-present countdown of when my account would be reinstated.

I knew what I had done and was given an end time.

This time around though, I was given no explanation, no time sentence, no information whatsoever.

“what’d i do?” I typed in the offered pop-up to Twitter as I hauled across to 40th Avenue, “i don’t even know what i did!”

Frowning, I turned on 23rd Street to head south towards the LocalNY hostel on 44th Avenue where I was hosting Ashcraft’s event in their lobby lounge: what exactly did I do?

 As well, I realized to my horror that a few of the people attending this event could only communicate with me via Twitter: it wasn’t just my feed which I could access, I also lost the capacity for direct messaging and interpersonal contact.

As the group arrived, we checked their newsfeeds: my throat tightened as we all saw my account definitely had been suspended. And in the moment, with nothing to be done about it, I parked my worry to the side of me, like a brick formed by hardened turds, even though I am sure my freakout patina was palpable.

We had a great night: a rousing conversation about how we could make our borough and city a more fair and equitable place to live over a few rounds of five dollar locally-produced Queens draft beers; our loud voices full of passion and hope as we sat in what was formerly an elevator factory and was now a budget boutique hostel. It was what I have become accustomed to here in my magical industrial Long Island City neighborhood: a typical Queens evening.

Ashcraft caught my deer-in-headlights eye as the night wound down and the look of abject anxiety crawled back on my face, newly distracted by my resurging thoughts on how I was going to handle what was happening and wondering anew what had set it off.

She said to me, “you got this.”

“Do I? Ugh. It’s my name, I just want it back, waaahh” I whined.

“I know,” she laughed. “You got this.”

I knew she was right; I knew I was going to figure it out, I was thankful she could see me freaking out, I was thankful to not be alone in it. I remain grateful I had something to do that night and that it was with people who support Ashcraft’s campaign, a gathering of smart and caring folks, good company.

I exhaled. She made me feel better. I put on my jacket and hugged my thanks; our night had been a success.

Ambling home in the dark and back in my thoughts, I had no idea what to expect with Twitter and still no idea what I had done.

I was already thinking what name would I have to concoct up, what variation on fuelgrannie I would have to use: fuelgrannienyc? fuelgrannietragicreturn? fuelgreatgrannie? I didn’t want to lose the perfect simplicity of my already ridiculous name, one I had been using for decades, since the internet’s inception.

And I had a suspicion, already, as I traced through the familiar streets back to my apartment building: I was starting to wonder if I had been strategically attacked.

I had certainly made a lot of enemies on Twitter but most of them were accounts I had been dealing with for months at that point, who were pro-Amazon, conservative and neolib local Yimbys. I reckoned that if this was their doing, they would have already attacked me by now, wouldn’t they have?

And the hate I have received over the years has remained thick and gooey: to this day, I am regarded as a “kook;” “fauxgressive psycho;” “spinster;” “delusional;” “bitter angry job kill[er];” “biggest liar;” “Scottish Slaveowner;” the “White Female Micro-Aggression that gave us Trump;” a veritable “Karen in the wild” with “inner ugliness” who needs to “get help.” I have often been purposefully misgendered: one user went as far, snidely, to ponder if I was transgender. My family has been mocked, including my deceased parents. After I had addressed the mocking, I was then accused of using their deaths to “gain sympathy” In two separate tweets.

I was used to being hated on Twitter but I wasn’t used to being silenced.

After all these denunciations which have been tweeted to me, and are still tweeted to me, just what was it that *I* had said which would have caused my account to be disabled at this juncture? I could not even report most of the insults tossed at me because they did not violate Twitter’s terms of service: I mean, “White Female Micro-Aggression Scottish Slaveowning Karen in the Wild” isn’t a threat. It’s untrue but there’s, oddly, no classifications for falsehood on Twitter reporting, only for threats and racial slurs.

So what, specifically, had I done or said? It was consuming not to know.

After arriving home, I announced my news via a late night pity party post on my Instagram stories, a screenshot of my greyed-out Twitter page, the avatar now an egg; my very moniker looking suspicious, like I was guilty; “account suspended.”

I pasted a sad face on the screenshot; I felt so oddly disconnected, not having access to Twitter. It was like my second mouth. I had nowhere to go to vent, other than my Instagram stories; I wasn’t about to whine about what happened on a permanent post because the more I thought about it, the more deeply I suspected that I had been targeted. For the moment, though, I wanted to keep that to my chest and not make my thoughts public.

I was exhausted, defeated and very much needing to express myself, a habit I never realized how much meant to me until it was frozen away from me.

What am I going to do? What will this adjustment look like? What name will I have to pick?

I still had my blog websites, although they had lain dormant of late. But the thought of them, of fleshing out my longform once again, felt like a future to me. And I still did “own” the name fuelgrannie, that personality is permanently linked to me, yet now I faced the odd hurdle of zero entry to the largest platform for that moniker. It was a loss to me; I didn’t understand how much of an assumption I had made that I would always have access to Twitter and to the content which I had created. My suspension earlier that summer had affected none of that: the only restriction then was a privately delivered chastisement declaring I could neither post nor like tweets for 12 hours.

This night, though, I couldn’t even open the app.

What, specifically, had caused this suspension? And, perhaps more importantly, why was it happening now? Why this week? Why this timeframe?

Because this week and timeframe did hold a significance regarding a particular faction of my adversaries, which is why I had my suspicion. My suspension had been activated less than 48 hours after a certain NYC pro-Yimby group had held their monthly meeting on Wednesday, October 2, 2019 in downtown Manhattan, the very same week this same Yimby group’s board members and members had started blocking me on Twitter. The timing to me was telling.

But I had no proof that it was them who were responsible for getting my account suspended.

And I could not rule out that all of this may in fact be due to one of my own tweets: but which one?

I was so curious. The dearth of information and explanation was a major part of my anxiety and added to my feeling of having no control. How do I fight something I am not sure of?

After a few more hours, Twitter emailed me with a copy of my own pop-up plea and instructions to write back with any other pertinent information so to appeal my suspension. Immediately, I wrote back with another “but like what did i do?” short message.

After I sent it, I dawned on me to fight more.

Another email came back from Twitter, acknowledging my recent correspondence and the same instructions to follow up.

I had a new distraction: what I would say, what I would write, to get my account back. I wanted my content back, too, not just my name and followers and I needed to construct an argument to get all that back, via this one open door. I had to plea for all the work I had done which was essentially stored and visible via my account: my tweets and threads were buckets of information; I didn’t want to lose any of the research which I had already presented. At the very least I was going to beg for a printed version of the 10 years of content I had created.

The following afternoon, Sunday, I finished and emailed my plea. Less than 36 hours later, on Tuesday morning, I got my account back.

Unshooketh.

Once I was finally able to access my profile, I immediately started blocking all the emeffers who had blocked me along with anyone else who had danced on my grave during my suspension or any accounts which had the word “Yimby” in the bio or who had pathologically supported gentrification or who had threatened violence or who had mocked my family.

Frankly, I would rather not block people. Over the course of 2019, I had gotten to a point where I had already stopped directly communicating with accounts who I had caught in lies or who had insinuated bodily harm towards me. Some of them had still tried to goad me into conversation but I ignored them. I was already comfortable and practiced in paying no heed to these few people.

Before my suspension, I had had no need to block people: I was proud not to block; proud to be visible, proud to be found, proud not to hide.

But when my voice on the platform had been shut down and silenced, with me having no idea what had happened or who had been involved, the only action I knew to take to protect my account and ultimately my voice was to block troublesome accounts.

So that’s why I block other users: that’s the reason and only reason.

Not because I “hate” those accounts or am “scared” by them or am “weak with no spine” or “can’t take discourse.”

Nope: I block people because I “do not want them fucking with my account.” Very simple.

I don’t want my voice taken away from me: that’s my priority on Twitter now. My priority used to be just expressing myself and it is, obviously, still that but it is also about just keeping my account safe from people who want to silence me and would prefer I not have or use this platform.

I used to view blocking differently: now I find it to be a fair move.

I do believe, especially now over a year’s passage of time, that my account had indeed been targeted. My understanding is that any account or tweet which receives 70 to 80 reports in a short amount of time is automatically flagged and the account suspended until further investigation. Perhaps that week where the Yimby group members had started blocking my accounts and had coincidentally also held their monthly meeting, there may have been some organization of their membership, their board and whatever sock-puppeted comrades and fellow fuelgrannie haters they could muster up. The timing is significant and telling; I cannot ignore it. Equally telling is the fact that I directly named and specifically accused that group to Twitter and got my account back less than two days later with nothing missing, neither content nor followers. It makes me suspect that Twitter found this to be a valid, cogent and potentially provable hypothesis.

My account remains Twitter-wonky to this day.

I still receive the same message every time I check my tweet stats: “Looks like there was a problem with your account,” along with its prompt to follow up with Twitter Ads; it is the exact same message I got that night when my account was frozen and has never stopped appearing.

looksliketherewasaproblemwithyouraccount
“Looks like there was a problem with your account

I have even followed up a few times on that prompt which then led me to this stilted sort of appeal process, several occasions ending with an instant rejection of appeal along with a vague reprimand to watch my language (I mean, there is literally porn on Twitter but please tell me again how offensive my account is) but there was never any addressing of any specific issue I had caused. So I have just learned to live with this chronic ad prompt.

And yes: my chronic blocking.