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Op/Ed: Grand Street Residents Speak Out on SPURA

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Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis.

For the past year, we have conducted in-depth interviews with a wide range of Lower East Side residents about the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. Last night, Grand Street residents Julia Kent and Ernest Wurzbach forwarded us a letter they sent to Community Board 3 — expressing their views on SPURA. Here’s what they have to say about what should happen on the 7 acre development site, the subject of neighborhood battles for more than 40 years:

We are writing to express our viewpoint as stakeholders in the SPURA issue; it is of vital importance to us. We live overlooking the site, and any development that occurs there will have an immediate and dramatic impact on our quality of life, property value, and livelihood.

The SPURA site, in its current state, is part of our daily environment. Some who are involved in this debate imply that the continued emptiness of the site has blighted the surrounding neighbourhood. We suggest that this is not true. The neighbourhood, as it exists today, is vibrant and demographically diverse, home to a multiplicity of small, unique, and, in some cases, historic businesses and cultural institutions. The site itself has existed as open, yet functional, space for 40 years. We are intimately familiar with the character of the site, since we look at it and walk through it on a daily basis.

We ask: Why the impetus to develop now, in this uncertain financial climate, and at a time when this neighbourhood already has seen radical, and not necessarily beneficial, changes created by development? The surrounding area is littered with abandoned private developments, the most egregious example being 183 Orchard Street, which has blighted an entire block of the Lower East Side for six years, causing the demise of businesses and untold disruption to residents. And construction projects undertaken by the city in this neighbourhood also do not have an impeccable record in terms of finishing expeditiously.  We question whether the disruption that development will create will be equalled by the benefits it will provide. Certainly, construction on the SPURA site will negatively impact the lives of everyone who lives adjacent to the site; we hope that is being taken into consideration in this debate.

If development must occur, we hope it prioritizes open space, which is in short supply in this neighbourhood; low-rise, architecturally innovative, and environmentally sensitive construction; and retail and cultural additions that will actually benefit the community and preserve its unique character, rather than generic towers and chain stores. We look to public housing projects in Europe, such as Gehry’s Siedlung Goldstein, as a model of what could be achieved here.

We understand there are a multiplicity of viewpoints, priorities, and agendas involved, and we are grateful for your consideration of ours. We do feel as though, for some, the issue of development on the SPURA site is something of an abstract concept. For us it is far from abstract. Due to our proximity to the SPURA site, any development will have an enormous impact on our lives. This why we are trying to have our voice heard as well. We are hoping there will be further opportunity for discussion.

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