No More Tall Stories

CIVITAS celebrates the life and legacy of Paul Newman (1925-2008), the late iconic American actor and advisory board member. A passionate advocate and philanthropist, one of his greatest contributions to CIVITAS and the East Side was the 1985 filming of “No More Tall Stories.” This seven-minute advocacy piece was screened and
circulated to illustrate the need for contextual rezoning on East Side Avenues.

Among the problems addressed were:

  • The 125-foot zone lining East Side avenues that increased the footprint and height for towers and contributed to the demolition of low-rise, mid-block structures that often housed affordable units.
  • The circular “V.I.P.” driveways, including many along East End Avenue, that allowed taller buildings by designating driveways as “public plazas.” In fact, the driveways did nothing for the public but detract from the pedestrian experience.

To make the case for rezoning, CIVITAS enlisted the help of Peter Bosselmann and UC Berkeley’s Environmental Simulation Laboratory which prepared the model of Second Avenue seen in the film. Also participating in this multi-year campaign were Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces, Craig Whitaker, architect, the New School’s Environmental Simulation Center, and countless neighbors and concerned citizens.

The Results

In 1994, the hard work of many paid off when the NYC Department of City Planning rezoned neighborhood avenues, including Third to East End Avenue, between 59th and 96th Street. The rezoning reduced the avenue zone to 100 feet, thereby lessening the building lot depth and height and helping to maintain the low-rise scale of the mid-blocks. Further, the city passed another measure to replace the bonus that gave the public many unwelcoming plazas and VIP driveways. The new bonus created incentives for increased affordable housing in exchange for slightly taller buildings. This measure also dictated that more building bulk be brought to the base, to create a contextual street wall with surrounding buildings.

The full story of this rezoning effort and the filming of “No More Tall Stories” is in the Fall 2008 CIVITAS Newsletter.