The transformative anger of Spuyten Duyvil over demo


For thousands of commuters and Spuyten Duyvil neighbors each day, the Villa Rosa Bonheur has been a part of their mental, emotional and physical landscape. It has been an anchor of peace, echoed by the green space that punctuates our neighborhood in a way not shared by other city communities.

When the roof of Villa Rosa started coming off, in a violent but furtive manner, we tried to assuage our fears, in spite of what we were witnessing in real time. We still tried to be good neighbors, so when told roof work was “repair” by the contractors, we continued on our commutes or walks about the neighborhood.

That was until it became clear we were witnessing architectural carnage.

I am a founding member of the Save Villa Rosa Bonheur Coalition, and each week, I spend at least 20 to 25 hours of my free time working on Villa Rosa-related issues, including trying to decipher a future when a rental building may rise from the ashes of Villa Rosa.

I attended the Community Board 8 land use committee meeting on Jan. 8 at which a representative from the developer (Sam Spokony of the public relations firm Marathon Strategies) addressed the board and attendees to “update” the public. He told us basically what we already knew: That two of the three stop work orders had been resolved, and that violations are being addressed.

In short order, scaffolding will be finalized, and a sidewalk shed erected. Demolition will resume.

I introduced a question to Mr. Spokony by letting him know that the light attendance resulted from Villa Rosa being added late to the agenda. He should know that there are hundreds of angry Spuyten Duyvil residents out there whose opinions are unlikely to change, regardless of “outreach” or other gimmicks. Unlike previous spokeswoman Diane Cahill, Mr. Spokony did not tell us we were undeserving of answers, but neither did he supply many.

He promised to get back to us, and encouraged us to register our email addresses on their new non-public website.

I was unprepared to be challenged by Chairman Chuck Moerdler, who felt that my statement was evidence of the neighborhood’s unfocused rage at the developer and was unproductive. I defended myself, saying that my organization was nothing if not practical and extremely productive.

We were initially dedicated to landmarking, but now include public safety and health, overdevelopment and zoning in our platform. And we are willing to speak with the developer, but will not tolerate duplicity, dishonesty and contempt.

Our anger is focused, and it is purpose-driven.

After the meeting, I appreciated being approached by Councilman Andrew Cohen, who told me he did not share Moerdler’s opinion. He expressed that he felt that the anger of Spuyten Duyvil residents was extremely valid.

I have recently been in contact with various elected officials, including Councilman Cohen, in regards to accountability issues and legislative solutions to predatory development. Our conversation opened a line of communication, and optimistically, I hope to work together to solve practical issues in real time, and the long-term challenges of community development.

In our “civilized” world, we tend to denigrate the expression of anger by average people, while celebrating it in politicians and celebrities. Wikipedia states that anger is a “supportive mechanism to show” that “something is wrong and requires changing.” Anger can “mobilize … resources for corrective action.”

This is how I see the anger of Spuyten Duyvil. Our anger is empowering. And for this tiny, quiet enclave, our anger is transformative.

Stephanie Coggins,