Jeanne DuPont, Executive Director of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA), is the 2008 winner of the Municipal Art Society’s Yolanda Garcia Community Planner Award.

This award acknowledges the often-unsung leaders of grassroots, community-based planning. It was created to commemorate the work of Ms. Yolanda Garcia, a community activist in the South Bronx 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.

As the Executive Director of RWA, a grassroots community organization that promotes public waterfront access in Far Rockaway, a barrier island in southeast Queens, Jeanne has worked closely with the community and local youth to develop long-term planning and redevelopment strategies.

Jeanne first came to Far Rockaway in 2002 while working as a costume designer on a film, and purchased an historic 1920s bungalow there in 2004.  That year, a developer started work on 15-story condo on the waterfront.  She saw that a large amount of development was going on in the area with little regard for the community.  Realizing that quite a bit of land in Far Rockaway reserved for public park space was actually abandoned/neglected, she began working with the Department of City Planning to identify these sites, thus beginning the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance.

In 2005, RWA created a proposal for a Rockaway Waterfront Park at one such neglected site, Seagirt Beach.  RWA hosted numerous workshops for Rockaway residents and local youth to participate in brainstorming sessions to plan, design and raise awareness of the site.  (A summary of this plan can be found in the Atlas of Community-Based Plans).  In May 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg designated $40 million to establish this public park space as part of his PlaNYC 2030 initiative.

RWA has also encouraged the Department of City Planning to rezone Far Rockaway to allow more infrastructure for the current community while discouraging gentrification and displacement.  They are now actively monitoring DCP’s Rockaway rezoning proposal.

RWA engages youth in local schools through its “Living Classroom” program, which teaches K-12 students about renewable energy, environmental art and shoreline conservation. Through their model, public school classrooms play a definitive role in shaping the policy and/or implementation of environmental programs in Far Rockaway.  RWA also encourages the local community to get active on the waterfront with “Stewardship Saturday” beach clean-ups and other events, and has created a draft Waterfront Management Plan that addresses local issues such as lack of lifeguards and public safety.  Visit RWA’s website for more information.

Jeanne will receive a $2,500 award at the Municipal Art Society’s annual meeting on July 9.

Photo via Newsday.