In the last several weeks, we have had a good deal of coverage about SPURA, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. For 40 years, the community has been haggling about the redevelopment of the five under-utilized parcels near the Williamsburg Bridge. This year, Community Board 3 took another crack at consensus building in the neighborhood. And affordable housing groups stepped up their organizing efforts. Now, Yori Yanover, the editor of the Grand Street News has joined the conversation. In the spirit of representing all points of view on one of the Lower East Side's most important issues, here's the full text of his column:
By Yori Yanover/Grand Street News
Over the past 40+ years there have been two
symmetrically opposed views on the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area
(SPURA), those five or so razed lots between Delancey and Grand and
Clinton and Essex Streets.
One view was expressed most emphatically
by the organizers of a rally last month, under the banner of "We Want
Justice at SPURA." The details were reminiscent, as they often are, of
the plight of Palestinian refugees: "42 years of vacant land in the
heart of the neighborhood… 2,000 homes demolished for urban renewal…
The Lower East Side is still waiting for community revitalization and
affordable housing on the site…" The rally also demanded "priority for
tenants displaced in 1967."
I doubt that justice for the displaced is
the burning issue—the original tenants are not currently huddled in
relocation camps. The rally was, most of all, about answering the need
for affordable housing in Manhattan. And "affordable" means low income.
Which brings us to the opposing view,
that the Lower East Side already has the second largest concentration
of low income residents in Manhattan – some 15 thousand households
below the poverty line. Why should this neighborhood shoulder an even
greater burden of low income housing? What we need, instead, are
amenities: a modern shopping mall, a movie theater, a park.
The popular perception is that the
dispute over SPURA is between local "haves" and "have nots." The more
well-to-do residents of co-ops and condominiums naturally oppose
additional low income housing, while the NYCHA constituency want to
expand it. I seriously wonder if this is the case. While many of our
burgeoning families are sharing very small apartments, it does not
necessarily mean that what the Lower East Side needs are 2,000 more
residential units below the poverty line.
The problem is that no one is organizing
angry rallies in favor of a shopping mall and a public piazza in SPURA.
Housing is simple and urgent enough an issue to serve as a gathering
point for militants. But how do you get middle- and lower middle-class
folks to go militant over their quality of life needs?
I fear that, as in most political
debates, the more militant and better organized advocates for SPURA’s
future will win the day, if not in this round then in the next. And
once the political process starts rolling, we’ll see a new cluster of
low income apartment buildings rise across the street from the Seward
Park co-op. It would mean further straining the already dwindling
resources of our neighborhood safety net. It would also mean
permanently giving up hope of turning Grand Street between the FDR
Drive and Allen into a thriving cultural area.
It’s time to get militant about the
future of SPURA, because whatever develops on those five lots will
certainly alter our lives down here.