New York Daily News
Tower of resentment
No one asked us about the rapid 5G installs, say New Yorkers
Simmering frustration over new 5G towers sprouting up across the city has reached a boiling point in Washington Heights, where residents say the poles are unsightly, could pose health risks and there was not enough community outreach about the project.
“They just tried to go ahead and just throw up on these towers behind our historic building, next to the protected bird sanctuary of Cabrini Woods,” said Derek Ratzenboeck, who spotted a construction crew breaking ground on a 5G tower near his building, near Fort Tryon Park, one day in January.
“I felt it just felt so sneaky, because it’s not a very high traffic area,” said Ratzenboeck, a professional violinist.
Ratzenboeck, the president of his coop and a resident of the upper Manhattan neighborhood since 2011, called his City Council representative, Carmen de la Rosa, and the construction temporarily ground to a halt.
In an effort to expand newer faster cell phone networks and fix “internet deserts,” the city plans to scatter 2,000 towers around the five boroughs by 2026, each equipped to host high-speed cell phone coverage and to provide free Wi-Fi.
Ninety percent of the towers will be located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and above 96th St. in Manhattan.
Pushback to the new towers is not confined to Washington Heights. It is happening across the city, including in Midtown and the West Village. Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine asked the city, in a letter last month, to slow the implementation of 5G towers until there were more engagement and education efforts.
“We must better communicate with the local community, and better educate New Yorkers about these installations,” Levine wrote.
As a neighborhood with a lack of broadband options and hit particularly hard by the pandemic, which made internet access more critical than ever, Inwood and Washington Heights were identified as places that were in need of the towers.
But residents and local officials have pushed back.
The 5G networks use a higher volume of towers with weaker signals than traditional cell towers to create a coverage network. Being smaller, they can be placed along sidewalks and closer to homes, roads and parks than larger towers.
“The sidewalks have become more of a public space. We’ve learned more uses for public spaces since COVID,” said Sean Khorsandi, executive director of Landmark West, an architecture and arts nonprofit. “... People are trying to get out and walk more. We should encourage that. If you want to get people out and walk more, you can’t create more obstacles to do that.”
For some, the poles seem to be located alarmingly close to where they live, work and play. They’ve brought up concerns about the physical profile of the towers as well as any possible long-term health impacts.
“Listen, I’d like better service, too. I’m sitting maybe 5 feet from my router in my apartment,” Washington Heights resident Donna Filippone told the Daily News over the phone. “My calls get dropped regularly.”
“I’m not of the mind that the government tries to protect its citizens and they do not know the cause and effect of the towers, for sure,” said Filippone, who works as a sales rep. “It’s a residential neighborhood. If they needed to put in infrastructure, they just picked a really awful site for it.
“It was not presented to the community in any way, shape or form for feedback.”
In Washington Heights, de la Rosa said she was taken by surprise at a meeting when five more sites were presented, though she acknowledged her office missed an email sent about the new sites.
“If it’s not done in a way to enfranchise and involve the community, it can be viewed as a negative when it doesn’t have to be,” she said.
Katherine Diaz, chairwoman of Manhattan Community Board 12, agreed the city’s rollout has been opaque.
“That’s what’s saddening and disappointing about the process,” Diaz said. “In terms of the board and the city, internet access is incredibly important . ... But how do we even have this conversation and bring this forward?
“Something that could have been a linear community engagement process has become quite controversial.”