Settlement Summit Held on Lower East Side

Abrons Arts Center Dance Ensemble performs at Settlement Summit. Photo by: Sean Sime.

This week, leaders of community-oriented social service organizations from around the world are gathering on the Lower East Side.  The Settlement Summit, the largest meeting of its kind ever held, includes workshops, topical conversations, site tours and (as you can see above) some entertainment.  University Settlement, the oldest settlement house in this country, is helping to host the unprecedented event, as a kind of lead-up to its 125th anniversary celebration later this year.

Fran Goldin. Photo by Sean Sime.

We stopped by University Settlement’s Houston Street Center earlier in the week to hear the first speaker, longtime Lower East Side rabble-rouser Fran Goldin.  In introducing the founding member of the Cooper square Committee, University Settlement Executive Director Michael Zisser called Goldrin “a Lower East Side hero.”

The Houston Street Center is part of the Avalon Bay complex, a mixed use development that replaced a “blighted parking lot” at the corner of Bowery and Houston streets. For many years, Goldin, fought tirelessly to make sure affordable housing was part of the equation on the site and elsewhere in the neighborhood (including on the SPURA site).

In her remarks, Goldin (86 years old), recounted her battles against Robert Moses, noted the historical importance of settlement houses in advocating for social change and advised activists to persevere even when their causes seem hopeless.  Showing she has lost none of her vim and vigor, Golden declared, “it might take you 50 f–king years but you’re going to win!”

Throughout this week’s sessions, participants have been talking quite a lot about whether settlement houses have lost their zeal for advocacy.  In this neighborhood (and across the city) they offer a wide range of social programs, including job training, health services, after school programs, early education opportunities and elder care.  They are also engaged in neighborhood issues.  Zisser, for example, sits on the community board panel coming up with a plan for redeveloping the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.  But in an era defined more by pragmatism than protest, settlement houses are working to redefine their roles in fighting for social justice.

There have been many other interesting events this week. John Rhea, head of the NYC Housing Authority, addressed the group. There was also a panel discussion on social media, which included staff from Educational Alliance, University Settlement and Greenwich House.

The conference goes through tomorrow. 300 organizations worldwide are represented.