Martin Scorsese Pushes to Protect Bowery from High-Rise Development

By Serena Solomon on March 20, 2013 11:43am 

 Director Martin Scorsese poses with his award for Best Director for "Gangs of New York" backstage during the 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards.
Director Martin Scorsese poses with his award for Best Director for "Gangs of New York" backstage during the 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards.
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KW/Getty Images

LOWER EAST SIDE — This is one mean street that's worth protecting.

That's the message from Academy Award-winning director and Downtown native Martin Scorsese, who has asked the city to do more to protect the Bowery from overdevelopment. 

The former Elizabeth Street resident wrote to the City Planning Commission on March 13, urging it to support the East Bowery Preservation Plan, which includes limiting new development height to 85 feet on the infamous strip's eastern flank.

Despite the Bowery's official listing on the National Register of Historic Places in February, the designation is honorific and does not provide any restrictions for developers regarding construction along the one-time "skid row."

"Having grown up on Elizabeth Street, the neighborhood and residents of the Bowery became clear catalysts for turning me into a storyteller," wrote Scorsese, in the letter addressed to Amanda Burden, the commission's chair. 

He attributed his ability to create Gotham-centric movies such as "Mean Streets" and the "Gangs of New York" to the area's character.

"[T]he influence of The Bowery — the grittiness, the ambience, the vivid atmosphere — is apparent," wrote Scorsese, of the stretch's influence on his work.

Scorsese noted in his letter the threat of high-rise apartment buildings that "only create more chaos, more disruption and ultimately offer The Bowery up to the elements of conformity."

The East Bowery Preservation Plan was created by the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors to protect the thoroughfare by limiting building heights along the strip and preventing the demolition of significant buildings.

Scorsese wrote he hopes the Bowery, which has influenced and inspired numerous artists through the decades, will continue to do so in the future. 

"[I] hope you sense my urgency in leaving the Bowery rich with history, artistry and restriction," he wrote.  

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