Community groups fighting to influence the city’s plans for the East River waterfront have a new ally: Representative Nydia Velazquez. This weekend, she vowed to take their concerns to city officials, “fighting every step of the way,” and to seek additional federal funding for the project. Velazquez made her remarks at a press conference to release the results of a comprehensive survey and a detailed alternative plan to the city’s blueprint.
The groups, led by the Urban Justice Center, focused on the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s proposals to rehabilitate Piers 35, 36 and 42. The coalition, “Organizing and United Residents” say the plans are “not responsive to the needs of the surrounding community and did not include any mechanisms for community input or participation.” Noting that the median income in Community Board 3 (which includes the Lower East Side and Chinatown) is scarcely over $32-thousand, the report said, these “two neighborhoods… have gentrified rapidly in the last decade, and the EDC’s plan (has) the potential to increase the pace of gentrification.”
In August, we reported on the city’s plans to renovate Pier 35 at Rutgers Slip “to provide much-needed landscaped space along the waterfront” and to construct “an innovative habitat restoration park, which will recreate the native plants and wildlife of the East River.” We have also been following the community’s struggle for access to Pier 36, which will soon be the home of a private facility, Basketball City. In their report, the groups continue to put pressure on Basketball City for discounted fees and other concessions. They are also want the section of the pier not being used by Basketball City to be transformed into a community center and, perhaps, a farmer’s market.
But the coalition appears to be devoting most of its energies to Pier 42. The city has said it will one day be converted into an “urban beach and boat launch.” But in meetings with the groups, the EDC has insisted there’s no money for that part of the project now. The “People’s Plan” unveiled Saturday proposes turning the pier into a park, with open space, basketball courts and playgrounds.
The Pratt Center for Community Development analyzed the city’s plans, relying in part on city documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The Hester Street Collaborative then produced architectural renderings, and a detailed budget was drawn up. According to the report, their plan (for all three piers) would cost $52 million, compared to $138 million already budgeted by the city.
Velazquez, noted that most of the money being used for the project came from the federal government. This, she said, puts her in a strong position to fight for changes. Saying “our community deserves better,” she told the coalition members it’s unfair that the city has spent lavishly on the West Side waterfront, while neglecting the East Side:
There has already been one meeting with the Economic Development Corporation. The coalition, now joined by Rep. Valazquez, hopes for a second meeting soon with the EDC, as well as the Transportation and Parks departments.
The report released Saturday included the results from 800 surveys, community visioning sessions and a town hall meeting. It indicates the respondents were both demographically and economically diverse, but it does not include a breakdown. Residents surveyed expressed an overwhelming desire for open space, recreational facilities, affordable food vendors and a cultural center reflecting the diversity of the community. They were opposed to high end residential development and upscale stores. One resident speaking at the press conference, said the lack of community centers and social services is one reason for the recent upsurge in youth violence.
On the city’s web site, the Department of City Planning makes a point of highlighting community involvement in the planning process. “Over 70 meetings were held with community boards, tenant associations, civic leaders, maritime experts and local elected officials,” it states. But “for the most part,” the coalition contends, “the EDC’s planning has taken place without wide-spread community support or approval.”
The coalition is made up of the Urban Justice Center, the Hester Street Collaborative, The Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, Organizing Asian Communities, Good Old Lower East Side. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, University Settlement and the Lower East Side Ecology Center.
You can read the full report on the Urban Justice Center’s web site.