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This monthly feature profiles a plan included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community- Based Plans in New York City, an interactive, online tool created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force.

May is Labor History Month, and given the current economic climate and the national push toward a sustainability agenda, the talk of the town is creating jobs in the sustainability industry.  A New York Times article last year described the national attraction to these “green jobs”: “Labor unions view these new jobs as replacements for positions lost to overseas manufacturing and outsourcing. Urban groups view training in green jobs as a route out of poverty. And environmentalists say they are crucial to combating climate change.”

Last year, Bronx environmental organizations Sustainable South Bronx (SSBX) and Green Worker Cooperatives released a plan for an Eco-Industrial Park at Oak Point. This plan explores the feasibility of developing a $36 million dollar eco-industrial park on an approximately 28-acre, waterfront brownfield site in Hunts Point, in the South Bronx. The site is located in the western corner of the Oak Point rail yard next to Bruckner Boulevard, across the river from Rikers Island.
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This monthly feature profiles a plan included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community- Based Plans in New York City, an interactive, online tool created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force.

In New York City, the most common stereotype about community-based planning is that communities don’t want change.  Detractors often say that, if communities were to make substantial planning decisions, the City would never see growth and development.  However, Manhattan Community Board 9 in Harlem proved this stereotype untrue with Sharing Diversity Through Community Action, their 197-a plan, adopted by the City in 2007.  With Earth Day this month, we highlight this plan, which is heavily focused on growth, development, and sustainability.

Since 1989, the New York City Charter has included a provision allowing community boards, organizations, and/or local elected officials to create comprehensive plans for the future of their districts, known as 197-a plans.  Manhattan Community Board 9, which serves the neighborhoods of Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, Hamilton Heights, and Sugar Hill, began the process in 1991.  After initial submission to and rejection by the City Planning Commission, they began revisions with help from the Pratt Center for Community Development.

Community board members and representatives from the Harlem Community Development Corporation and Pratt Center met regularly for over 20 months and held monthly public meetings to get community input on the plan’s recommendations. They also held three community-wide forums in 2004.  Based on these meetings, they created a Community Feedback Table to address each issue and set out actions. This insured that community concerns guided the plan from the beginning.

Out of this process, CB9 established the following goals:

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This monthly feature profiles a plan included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community-Based Plans in New York City, an interactive, online tool created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force. This month, we feature the Rockaway Waterfront Park Plan for Seagirt Beach, spearheaded by Jeanne DuPont, Executive Director of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance and winner of the 2008 Yolanda Garcia Community Planner Award. Nominations for the 2009 Yolanda Garcia award will be open soon!

Far Rockaway, Queens consists of two square miles of barrier island just across the bay from JFK Airport and just west of the Nassau County line.  Its population is diverse, including a large Orthodox Jewish community, and immigrants from Russia, Jamaica, Guyana, and Guatemala.  While there are some upscale areas, particularly near the Long Island border, a large percentage of residents live in public or rent-regulated housing. The area has been hit hard recently by a double-whammy: a wave of foreclosures due to the ongoing mortgage crisis, and a nearly simultaneous wave of new, often luxury, development.

Jeanne DuPont was inspired to start the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA) when she saw that much of that new development was proceeding with little regard for current residents.  With a little research and coordination with the Department of City Planning, she also found that quite a bit of land in Far Rockaway reserved for public park space was either abandoned or neglected.

In 2005, RWA created a proposal for a Rockaway Waterfront Park at one such neglected site, Seagirt Beach (pictured above). Located east of the Arverne Urban Renewal Area and just outside of Arverne-by-the-Sea (which has its own community-based plan in the Atlas), this area currently has no public playground in over fifty blocks along Atlantic Ocean side of the Rockaway Peninsula.  The area was once a rich habitat for dolphins, striped bass, sharks, whales, and shellfish; however, dredging by the US Army Corps of Engineers to replenish the beach west of 32nd Street depleted its natural resources.

RWA hosted numerous workshops for Rockaway residents and local youth to participate in brainstorming sessions to plan, design and raise awareness of the Seagirt Beach site. The organization’s goal is to create a public area out of these neglected lots that fits in with the natural landscape of the Rockaway waterfront, and allows the public to participate in the waterfront through educational, arts and cultural events.

In May 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg designated $40 million to establish a public park at Seagirt Beach as part of his PlaNYC 2030 initiative.  However, the process is “moving very slowly,” according to DuPont.  The park has yet to be officially established, and local residents fear that the economic crisis could threaten the plan.

In the meantime, RWA has released an Action Plan for Enhanced Waterfront Park Management, to address the following issues: inaccessible beaches and blocked waterfront access; illegal dumping of trash; and the uneven distribution of trash cans, lifeguards, maintenance, and public facilities along the waterfront.  Their current goal is to create a community-led, youth-focused conservation corps and to raise funds to ensure adequate public safety, maintenance and programming for the Rockaway Waterfront.  They recently achieved a major victory when the City selected RWA to develop the Rockaway Firehouse into a community center, which will focus on environmental programming.

For more details on RWA’s Waterfront Park proposal for Seagirt Beach, please visit the Atlas of Community-Based Plans, where you can download a detailed summary.

Just a quick note to congratulate the Stable Brooklyn Community Group — the creators of our very first Community-Based Plan of the Month recently had a rezoning based on their plan approved by the City Council!  Here’s a final map from the Department of City Planning:

This monthly feature profiles a plan included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community-Based Plans in New York City, an interactive, online tool created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force. This month, we feature the UNITY Plan, a community-based alternative to the proposed Atlantic Yards development.

 As large-scale developments are slowed and perhaps halted by economic woes, decision-makers may be taking a second look at plans that adhere to a more modest, build-able vision, but are better able to justify public expenditure-because they are initiated by the public.

 When the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) and the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development re-launched their alternative to Forest City Ratner (FCR)’s proposed Atlantic Yards development, Understanding, Imagining and Transforming the Yards (UNITY), two years ago, they faced an uphill battle in convincing the public that Atlantic Yards was not a “done deal.”  Today, due to the worsening economy, at least one ongoing lawsuit, and the MTA’s recent statement that Atlantic Yards is not a priority for stimulus funding, the Brooklyn mega-development is clearly anything but a done deal. 

FCR’s original proposal, which became public in 2003, called for 17 “iconic buildings,” to be located between Prospect Heights and Fort Greene (the site is shown above), including an 850,000 sq. ft. basketball arena, 336,000 sq. ft. of office space, 165,000 sq. ft. of hotel space, 247,000 sq. ft. of retail space, eight acres of open space, and over 6,400 units of housing.  The housing component remains particularly controversial, as many of the proposed units deemed “affordable” are out of reach of those making the average income for Brooklyn

Mounting Challenges

The 22-acre development would require use of both MTA property and an area around it, including occupied homes and businesses.  To amass this land, FCR would require the use of eminent domain.  State Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the use of eminent domain for the project on Monday, and a decision is expected within the next few months.  Plaintiffs are also planning an appeal of yesterday’s ruling against them in a case challenging the project’s environmental review.

In addition, Atlantic Yards faces major financial challenges due to the economic downturn.  In fact, Borough President Marty Markowitz recently asked the State for “bailout” money for the project from the national stimulus bill, and called for a redesign to reduce project costs.  In short, completion of the project as originally proposed seems unlikely.

Voices Raised

The UNITY plan’s creators anticipated such a scenario as early as 2004.  In March of that year, in cooperation with Council Member Letitia James, a team of architects and urban designers joined hundreds of citizens, elected officials, designers and developers to imagine a community-based model for development at the site and to examine issues such as affordable housing, ecology, public open space, traffic, retail, jobs, and infrastructure. The original UNITY Plan evolved out of this workshop.  The plan formed the basis for the “Principles for Responsible Community Development” of the railyards, which was endorsed by elected officials from the project area and 25 organizations.  

Three years later, in April 2007, about 80 community groups and residents revisited the plan and sought to create a more specific vision.  They attended a day-long UNITY workshop focused on the issues of affordable housing; sustainable transportation; accessible open space and connections; jobs and economic development; urban design and site planning; and the planning and development process at the site.  Later that year, CBN and Hunter released an updated UNITY Plan, which depicts one example of how the Principles for Responsible Community Development could be realized, and is designed so that all or part of it may be implemented, depending on what FCR is ultimately able to accomplish.  Currently, the extent of FCR’s ability to develop remains unclear, but CBN Co-Chair Candace Carponter said, “We have UNITY at the ready,” should FCR’s plans fall through.

An Alternative Vision

The UNITY plan differs from FCR’s plan in a number of important ways.  Rather than one developer creating superblocks, UNITY proposes extending streets over the railyards to connect Park Slope and Fort Greene and create eight individual sites, encouraging diverse participation by multiple developers and architects, who would agree to the established community development principles.  Rather than high-rise towers, UNITY calls for buildings of varied heights that would fit in with the surrounding context.  Significantly, UNITY only requires use of land over the railyards, and would not require taking any privately-held property.

UNITY also includes a detailed plan for the creation of affordable housing, using the median income for Brooklyn as the indicator.  Under this plan, 60 percent of housing would be available to low-income residents, 40 percent would be owner-occupied (co-ops or condos), and provisions would be put in place to ensure that tenants of affordable units in the surrounding area are not displaced. 

Transportation improvements, use of green building technologies, open space provisions, and plans for economic development with a focus on local entrepreneurship are also included in the UNITY Plan. 

For more information, please visit the Atlas of Community-Based Plans, where you can download a detailed summary.

The Community-Based Plan of the Month highlights plans included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community-Based Plans in New York City, an interactive map created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force.  As the recent economic slowdown gives us the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate New York City’s planning processes, community-based plans can provide a framework for a future that works for all New Yorkers.  The plans featured in this column will provide examples of how inclusive planning processes work on the ground, and ideally will help inspire future community planning efforts.

Sunset Park 197-a Plan

Sunset Park encompasses a large stretch of Brooklyn’s East River waterfront, bordered by the Prospect Expressway to the north, Bay Ridge to the south, and the Gowanus Expressway to the east.  The area has served as a maritime hub for over 100 years.  The Bush Terminal was established there in 1895, and eventually grew to over 200 acres.  During World War II, the Brooklyn Army Terminal handled nearly 80% of the country’s supplies and troops, and employed nearly 10,000 civilians.  After the war, however, as the region’s shipping hub shifted from the ports of New York to those of New Jersey, many jobs disappeared and the neighborhood fell into disinvestment.

In recent years, the Sunset Park waterfront has experienced a resurgence of industry, including warehousing and light manufacturing.  It is now one of NYC’s six designated Significant Maritime Industrial Areas (SMIAs).  Waves of immigration have also contributed to making Sunset Park the dynamic neighborhood it is today.  Beginning with Puerto Ricans in the 1970s and followed more recently by Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Columbians, and Mexicans, immigration has transformed Sunset Park into a center of Latino culture in Brooklyn. The neighborhood is also home to Brooklyn’s Chinatown, which is the third-largest Chinese community in NYC.

Over the next 10-to-20 years, Sunset Park faces the potential for many changes.  It is targeted for City and State projects such as a container port, a cross-harbor rail freight tunnel, a waterfront park, and possible reconstruction or tunneling of the Gowanus Expressway.  In addition, the neighborhood faces increasing pressure from rising housing costs caused by the gentrification of surrounding areas, particularly to the north.

In response to these and other concerns, in 1996, Brooklyn Community Board 7 began work on a 197-a plan.  Since 1989, the New York City Charter has included a provision allowing community boards, organizations, and/or local elected officials to create these comprehensive plans for the future of their districts.  The process began in Sunset Park with a detailed study of existing conditions created by the Metro Chapter of the American Planning Association.  In 1997, Community Board 7 and the Municipal Art Society Planning Center sponsored a workshop to generate a community vision for the waterfront and establish preliminary goals.

In the coming years, the board sponsored a number of community workshops, forums, and open meetings, involving a broad spectrum of local residents, stakeholders, and, community-based organizations, including UPROSE, Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation, Hispanic Young People’s Alternatives, the Center for Family Life, the Chinese-American Planning Council, and others.  The City Planning Commission recently declared that the plan meets threshold review, and is now assessing its potential environmental impacts.  The plan could enter the public review process as soon as the spring, and if passed, will become the City’s 11th adopted 197-a plan.

The plan’s recommendations are broad and detailed.  They cover areas from infrastructure, manufacturing, and transportation to the environment, open space and waterfront access, to housing, quality of life, and job creation.  The plan’s main goals are as follows:

  • To promote industrial redevelopment and job creation in Sunset Park while retaining existing industrial jobs.
  • To maximize waterfront access and open space opportunities in combination with industrial and waterfront redevelopment.
  • To preserve existing industrial, commercial and residential uses and fabric in the area east of 1st Avenue.
  • To encourage development that places a minimal environmental burden on adjacent residential communities.

For more details, please visit the Atlas of Community-Based Plans, where you can download a detailed summary.

The Community-Based Plan of the Month is a new feature, highlighting plans included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community-Based Plans in New York City, an interactive map created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force.  As the recent economic slowdown gives us the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate New York City’s planning processes, community-based plans can provide a framework for growth that works for all New Yorkers.  The plans featured in this column will provide examples of how inclusive planning processes work on the ground, and ideally will help inspire future community planning efforts.

Stable-izing Brooklyn

When the Fort Hamilton Parkway interchange of the Prospect Expressway was completed in 1962 under the direction of Robert Moses, a small, eight-block section of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn was severed from its neighbors.  This quirky area was once home to a number of horse stables due to its proximity to Prospect Park, but now only one remains: Kensington Stables, located at East 8th Street and Caton Avenue.  Since Claremont Riding Academy near Central Park closed last year, Kensington Stables is among New York’s few remaining urban stables.

The desire to preserve the stables and the low-rise residential enclave that surrounds them inspired a group of residents to come together in 2005 to plan for their neighborhood’s future.  Calling themselves the Stable Brooklyn Community Group, they began organizing their neighbors with a walking tour to survey vacant lots and buildings under development (shown above in front of the stables, via the group’s website).  Next, homeowners, renters, visitors, and equestrians discussed the neighborhood’s development, traffic, sanitation, and safety concerns with representatives of Brooklyn Community Board 7 and the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office.  In spring 2006, representatives from the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development led two community visioning workshops in the neighborhood.  The process culminated in the release of a report, Stable-izing Brooklyn (PDF), in July 2006.  Read more after the jump.

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