The Community-Based Planning Task Force blog is on hiatus while we work on some internal restructuring.  Please check out our archives and our “Resources” section, as well as the Atlas of Community-Based Plans, to learn more about community-based planning in New York City.

Frances 1“A renewal effort has to be conceived as a process of building on the inherent social and economic values of the community.  Neglecting these values through programs of massive clearance and redevelopment can disrupt an entire community.”

These words could easily have been written by South Bronx activist Yolanda Garcia. In the early 1990s, she founded an organization known as We Stay/Nos Quedamos, and led a movement of residents who wanted to remain in their neighborhood despite the City’s plan to redevelop it with low-density, mixed-income housing.  They created an alternative plan for affordable housing development at Melrose Commons that is still being implemented today.

However, the words above are actually the opening statement of the Cooper Square Alternate Plan, written in 1961 by a group of activists from the Lower East Side, including Frances Goldin.  Known as the Cooper Square Committee, they opposed Robert Moses’ urban renewal plan to demolish and redevelop more than 2,500 housing units in their neighborhood.

On July 13, the Municipal Art Society celebrates the kindred spirits of these two community activists by presenting the annual Yolanda Garcia Community Planner (YGCP) Award to Ms. Goldin.  MAS created the YGCP award in 2006 to honor the memory of Ms. Garcia, who passed away in 2005.  Selected from an open nomination process by a panel of judges consisting of former honorees and leaders in the community planning field, the awardee must have no formal training in planning, and must have demonstrated his or her ability to overcome the many obstacles to grassroots planning and bring neighborhood need and vision into New York City’s planning process.

Ms. Goldin came to the Lower East Side from Queens in 1944 as a newlywed of 20.  Shortly after her arrival, she went to a local group known as the 1st Ave. Tenant and Consumer Council to research her rent history because she thought her $75/month rent was too high.  She became active with this group, and thus began a lifetime as a coFrances 3mmunity organizer.

In 1959, Robert Moses proposed a massive urban renewal plan for the Lower East Side that would have displaced 2,400 tenants, 450 single-room occupants, 4000 homeless beds, and over 500 businesses.  He intended to create 2,900 units of middle-income housing, which would have been out of financial reach of 93 percent of residents.

The Cooper Square Committee formed in response to this plan, and organized to create their own vision for the neighborhood’s future.  “It was very easy to organize the group because people were directly affected,” said Goldin, who added that they coordinated over 100 community meetings in a year.  The resulting Cooper Square Alternate Plan included public housing, Mitchell-Lama co-ops, other cooperative housing, resettlement and rehabilitation facilities, and artist housing.  The group based the proposal on two main principles: 1) the people who live on the site should be the beneficiaries, not the victims, of the plan; and 2) no tenant should be relocated outside the community.  The City approved a modified version of it in 1970.

In his book New York for Sale, Tom Angotti writes, “The Cooper Square Alternate Plan would have died an early death if it weren’t for the radical and often militant organizing behind it.”  Goldin was heavily involved in the actions opposing rent hikes and supporting an affordable and diverse Lower East Side.  For example, at one point the group erected teepees on Houston Street and slept outside to protest rising rents.  “You have to have the professional and the media, but unless you have the troops, you have nothing,” she said.

Frances 5Delays plagued implementation of the Cooper Square Alternate Plan initially, but in the 1970s and 80s, the Committee was active in maintaining and creating affordable housing.  Some of their early projects included renovation of over 320 apartment units, construction of the 146-unit low-income Thelma Burdick Houses, and renovation of the Cube Building to house formerly homeless families.  Today, the Cooper Square Committee owns 23 buildings, and maintains their affordability in perpetuity in the rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side through the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association.

The Cooper Square Alternate Plan is widely considered to be the first community-based plan created in New York City.  Goldin and her “comrades in struggle” (as she refers to her neighbors) set an example that has influenced countless activists and advocacy planners who followed.  Though she recently celebrated her 85th birthday, age has not dampened her activist spirit.  She continues to work with the Cooper Square Committee, and to manage Frances Goldin Literary Agency, which represents authors of literary fiction and political non-fiction, including Barbara Kingsolver, Adrienne Rich, and Mumia Abu Jamal.  Her agency’s website states that Goldin, “considers herself very lucky to have no dichotomy between her radical politics and her working life.”  Most importantly, she continues to inspire other activists, and encourages others to become, “the spark that lights the flame.”

Ms. Goldin will accept the $1,500 award at the Municipal Art Society’s annual meeting on July 13.  For more information on the Cooper Square Alternate Plan, visit Planning for All New Yorkers, an Atlas of Community-based Plans.

Photos courtesy Joyce Ravitz and Sally Goldin.

Over a year ago, the Gowanus community heard the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s plan to create a “Sponge Park” on a Verizon parking lot near the highly-polluted canal.  Today, the Brooklyn Paper reports that Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Carroll Gardens) has earmarked $300,000 to implement a pilot version of this community-based plan.

The Conservancy envisions the park as a tool to help reduce runoff into the canal, and to help soak up toxins from the waterway, which is so polluted that the EPA is currently considering it for federal Superfund status.  (The City opposes this pottential designation, arguing that it could manage the cleanup more effectively.)

The $300,000 is not enough to implement the full park, the Brooklyn Paper reports, but could potentially result in a one-block esplanade.

As expected, the MTA Board voted 10-2 yesterday to allow Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner to make payments for the Vanderbilt Railyards over 22 years, and to build a smaller railyard worth $100 million less than originally promised.  Read all about it at Atlantic Yards Report.

As Crain’s reports, however, this may not be the end of the story:

“Forest City’s next major agenda item is selling bonds to finance the project’s centerpiece: an arena that where the company’s basketball team, the Net’s will play. The company hopes to begin selling $490 million worth of bonds to finance the $772 million arena this fall. Legislation allowing Forest City to issue tax free bonds expires at the end of the year so timing is critical. If Forest City fails to secure those bonds or other financing by early next year, the MTA deal falls apart.”

The video above is the trailer for the documentary Some Place Like Home – The Fight Against Gentrification in Downtown Brooklyn, produced by Task Force member organization Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE). The Accountable Development Working Group and the Fifth Avenue Committee host a free screening on Wednesday, June 24 at 7pm at the Fifth Avenue Committee’s office, 621 DeGraw Street, near 4th Ave., Brooklyn.  From 6-7pm there will be an abridged meeting of the Accountable Development Working Group – the last monthly meeting until autumn.

Admission is FREE and refreshments will be served!  Small business owners and residents interviewed in the film will be on hand for Q & A.

To RSVP (not necessary but helpful) or further info, contact FAC at 718 237-2017, ext 148 or

Tonight, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), the Greenwich Village Block Associations, and other community groups will hold an open forum on New York University’s proposed 2031 expansion plans.

According to GVSHP, the plan indicates, “the potential for a very large expansion of the university in and around its core facilities in the Village, East Village, and NoHo during that time period — roughly double its rate of expansion over the last several decades.”

The forum will be an opportunity to find out more about the plan from the perspective of community groups, including concerns regarding how NYU is adhering to its commitments to a set of planning principles developed with community input.  It is also an opportunity to find out more about the process by which this plan is being reviewed and how you can be a part of it.

A flyer for the forum can be found here, and more background information can be found here.

Via our friends at Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the following is a letter from Senator Bill Perkins to the Acting Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the MTA. It’s long, but definitely worth a read. The MTA’s Board meets June 22 and is expected to vote on an renegotiated agreement with developer Bruce Ratner for the rights to the Vanderbilt Railyards.


Dear Ms. Williams:

I write to follow up on the hearing that was held on May 29th regarding the Atlantic Yards project.

At the hearing you testified that MTA was engaged in renegotiations with Forest City Ratner regarding the development rights over the Vanderbilt Yards. The original deal required FCR to make various infrastructure improvements and remit 100 million dollars at closing. You reported at the hearing that the developer now wants to significantly scale down its commitments both in terms of infrastructure and money. It has been reported that the new terms of the deal will be voted on at the MTA’s next board meeting, scheduled for June 24th.

I write to request that the MTA immediately fax me a copy of any proposed amended agreements between MTA and FCR. There is already a great deal of public concern about the terms of the various deals at Atlantic Yards, in particular MTA’s acceptance of a substantially below-appraisal offer. Given MTA’s deep financial problems, its reliance on public bailout, and the many concerns raised about the viability of the Atlantic Yards project, MTA must make every effort to engage the public now, so that no new Vanderbilt Yards deal is ratified without the public having a substantial opportunity to review and comment.

Public engagement is always important, but it is particularly critical now that so many of the alleged public benefits of the Atlantic Yards project have diminished or vanished altogether. For example, the state of the art rail yard FCR was to build is no longer on the table as the new yard would have fewer tracks than are currently in place and that were originally promised; the IBO has concluded that the arena will now be a money-loser for the city; promised office space has been scrapped, substantially reducing revenue and jobs; there are no concrete or near-term plans to build the bulk of the promised affordable housing, which is contained in Phase 2 of the project plan, which has no timeline; the “world-class” Frank Gehry design has been scrapped for a cookie-cutter alternative; the much-touted “Urban Room” public space has been discarded; the remaining so-called public space is all contained in Phase 2, which again has no timeline; and then ESDC CEO Marissa Lago stated publicly that the project will take “decades” to complete, which will continue or even exacerbate for a generation the so-called blight the project was intended to resolve, and significantly delay or deny the public’s accrual of benefits.

The public needs to know that it is getting the best deal possible and that the MTA is not granting sweetheart deals to developers at the expense of taxpayers, straphangers and the local community. To that end, in addition to immediately providing a written copy of the renegotiated terms, please provide detailed written answers to the following questions:

1) Why is MTA renegotiating terms with FCR rather than demanding performance or rescinding the agreement and re-issuing the RFP in order to determine whether there are other interested parties?

2) In renegotiating the terms, did MTA consider that most of the alleged public benefits it considered in 2005 have since substantially diminished or vanished altogether?

3) Has the MTA contracted an independent appraiser to appraise the Vanderbilt Yards to determine their current Fair Market Value? If not, why not? What is the current Fair Market Value of the Vanderbilt Yards?

4) Given that the new agreement will be substantially and materially different from the original, making it a new agreement, does not the Public Authorities Accountability Act of 2005 now apply and impose a fiduciary duty on MTA board members and require that the sale of property for fair market value be supported by an independent appraisal? If not, why not?

5) What are FCR’s obligations to the MTA if the deal closes but the developer does not proceed with the project?

Time is of the essence. These answers need to be known and made public prior to the MTA board considering any new deal regarding the Vanderbilt Yards. Therefore please provide a written response to my office no later than Friday June 19, 2009.

Thank you.

Senator Bill Perkins

Cc: Governor David A. Paterson
Dennis Mullen, Acting CEO and President, Empire State Development Corp.
H. Dale Hemmerdinger, Chairman, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith
Senator John Sampson, Democratic Conference Leader
Senator Martin Malave Dilan, Chair Transportation Committee
Senator Velmanette Montgomery
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries

NY1 reports that the City Planning Commission approved its proposed Coney Island rezoning this morning in an almost unanimous vote (one new Commissioner abstained).   The plan calls for development of hotels and housing (4,500 market-rate units and 900 affordable units), “entertainment retail,” and more City control of the amusement area, as part of the boardwalk would become mapped parkland.

Issues remain with the City’s development plans, however.  Developer Thor Equities still owns much of the land within the proposed rezoning area, and the City needs State approval to alienate parkland before it can arrange the land-swap deal it hopes to use to purchase Thor’s land.

The rezoning will go before City Council for final approval within 50 days.

Each and every one of our city’s community boards is currently facing a budget cut of $35,000. Your community board provides a range of services vital to your community’s welfare, from overseeing essential municipal services, to ensuring that you have a voice in local decision-making, to serving as a place-based provider of constituent services. Community boards are the public’s interface with New York City’s enormous and complex government, and they are also government agencies’ conduit to the public.  Meaning, for example, that when the Department of Health needs to update a community on the spread of the H1N1 virus, it asks the community board for help with outreach.

Boards already suffer from underfunding, and cuts this deep mean that the public loses out the most:  fewer resources will mean tough choices about how to prioritize the many demands made on community boards every day as they struggle to both perform City Charter-mandated responsibilities and attend to the growing needs of constituents.

On Tuesday, June 9, at 11:00 a.m., on the steps of City Hall, join all five of New York’s borough presidents, all 59 of New York’s community boards, and community advocates of all stripes, in calling on the City Council for the restoration of community board budgets for the coming fiscal year. (This rally has been organized by the Manhattan Borough President’s Office.)

Following up on last week’s Atlantic Yards hearing, project opponents Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn will hold a community meeting to provide updates on the plan: Tuesday June 9, 7pm at Lafayette Avenue Church, 85 S. Oxford Street in Fort Greene.  Speakers will include Council Member Letitia James, Pratt Institute’s Ron Shiffman, Develop Don’t Destroy’s Daniel Goldstein, (all of whom are members of the Community-Based Planning Task Force) and others.

Since 2000, The Community-Based Planning Task Force has been leading the effort to create a more meaningful role for communities in New York City’s planning and decision-making processes.

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