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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.


On the Municipal Art Society website, Sideya Sherman of MAS talks with former Yolanda Garcia Community Planner Award recipient Elizabeth Yeampierre (shown at left receiving the award in 2007) about her organization UPROSE, how and why she became involved in community activism and environmental justice, and why global climate change is a major issue in this field.

To highlight community-based planning in New York ahead of this year’s YCGP award, this podcast is the second in a series of three interviews with previous award recipients. If you would like to nominate someone for this year’s award, visit by June 6!

Over on the Municipal Art Society’s website, I sit down with last year’s Yolanda Garcia Community Planner Award winner Jeanne DuPont, Executive Director of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance. Stream the interview on the site, or download it for your mp3 player.

The YGCP Award honors the unsung heroes of grassroots, community-based planning.  Nominations for the 2009 are open until the end of this month.  Read more and nominate someone online here.

On Saturday, May 16th the Municipal Art Society Planning Center will launch the third annual Livable Neighborhoods Program training at Hunter College. Join over one hundred New Yorkers from neighborhoods across the city to learn more about how to make positive transformations in your neighborhood. Past facilitators have included Tom Angotti of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, Anthony Borelli of the Manhattan Borough President’s Office and Vicki Weiner of the Pratt Center for Community Development.

Important Information:

Date and Time: Saturday May 16, 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Registration Deadline: Friday, May 1, 2009
Who Can Attend? Registration is open the public, however priority is given to members of grassroots organizations and community boards.
What Is The Cost? Participation in the program is free.
Where Is The Training? The training will take place at Hunter College with special assistance from Hunter College’s Center for Community Planning and Development (CCPD). Hunter College is located at 695 Park Ave (Manhattan). Corner of 68th Street and Lexington Ave.
Will Food Be Served? Yes. We will provide breakfast and lunch.

Can I Bring My Child? Yes. The LNP is designed to be as convenient for participants as possible. We will have a supervised children’s activity room available for children school age and up.

To register online please visit

For more information, please contact Sideya Sherman, at or call 212.935.3960 x259.

The Yolanda Garcia Community Planner Award (YGCP) acknowledges the hard-working leaders of grassroots, community-based planning. The award was created to commemorate Yolanda Garcia, a community activist in the South Bronx (seen at work in the photo at left). Under Garcia’s leadership, the residents of Melrose challenged the city, created an alternative to an urban renewal plan, and transformed a neighborhood. The organization created by Garcia, We Stay/Nos Quedamos, is bringing that community’s vision to life through planning, design, construction, and programming.

In 2007, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) presented the second annual YGCP award to Elizabeth Yeampierre for her work with the United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park (UPROSE), which has engaged local residents, particularly youth, in multiple community planning and environmental justice initiatives along the Sunset Park waterfront in Brooklyn.  Last year’s winner was Jeanne DuPont, Executive Director of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance. The award recognized her work engaging a diverse community and local youth in open space and environmental issues on the barrier island of Far Rockaway, Queens.

MAS will accept nominations online for the 2009 YGCP award now through May 29.  For a printed copy of the nomination form, please contact us.

Award criteria and more information after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Department of Buildings is holding a public hearing this afternoon on a new proposed rule that would make new construction and major renovation plans availabe online and implement a 30-day public review and comment period.  The rule was originally set to go into effect on Monday, leaving little time for the DOB to review and respond to any comments received today.  The DOB released a statement this morning that they will delay implementation of the new rule until April, “to ensure adequate time to consider any public input.”

The Municipal Art Society released its recommendations for changes to the rule this morning.  Are you planning to testify today?  Let us know in the comments.

On February 2, Mayor Bloomberg and Department of Buildings Commissioner LiMandri announced a new DOB proposal to make diagrams of proposed new buildings or major enlargements available online.  Accompanying this will be a new 30-day formal public challenge period.  A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Friday, March 6 at 3 pm at 280 Broadway’s 3rd Floor Conference Room.  The proposal is scheduled to take effect only three days later – Monday, March 9.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of this proposal?  Will it truly “give New Yorkers a stronger voice in the development of neighborhoods, create greater transparency, and clarify the process for the public and for developers,” as Bloomberg claims?

Please join the Municipal Art Society on Tuesday, March 3 at 8:30 am at 457 Madison Avenue for a briefing and discussion. Coffee will be provided, but please BYOBagel and your comments/questions/concerns about the proposal as we prepare for the public hearing.

Pressure is mounting to halt the national tide of foreclosures. New York’s housing advocates are working at the frontlines to keep people in their homes and to ensure that solutions currently being generated at the city and state level respond to New York’s unique housing and neighborhood needs.

A Municipal Art Society Planning Center panel discussion moderated by Eva Hanhardt of the Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment late last year, tapped the insights of Audrey Waysee, Center for New York City Neighborhoods; Josh Zinner, Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project; Mark Winston-Griffith, Drum Major Institute; Patricia Kerr, Neighborhood Housing Services, Jamaica; and Ingrid Gould Ellen, Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, to confront the question:  How do we stabilize neighborhoods experiencing high rates of foreclosure?

Check out a summary and video clips on MAS’s website.

Have you recently been involved in a community-based planning initiative in your neighborhood?  If so, we want to hear about it.

Last year, the Municipal Art Society Planning Center and the Community-Based Planning Task Force launched Planning for All New Yorkers: an Atlas of Community-Based Plans in New York City. The Atlas is an interactive, online, map-based tool that allows users to search plans by type and download summaries in PDF form.  It is the only resource in NYC that brings together community planning initiatives of all types, including 197-a comprehensive plans, waterfront access plans, economic development plans, transportation plans, and more.

The 87 plans currently in the Atlas represent countless hours of work by grassroots organizations, community boards, and New Yorkers from all five boroughs since 1989.  As community planning in NYC continues, the Atlas is always growing.  If you know about a planning process that has taken place in your neighborhood and you don’t see it included in the Atlas, please let us know!

Tonight, the Municipal Art Society presents the following Panel Discussion:

Solutions for Preserving New York’s Neighborhood Businesses

Monday, October 6, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., at the West Side Synagogue, 120 West 76th St. at Columbus Ave.

Chain stores and banks are an increasing threat to the unique character of diverse neighborhoods throughout New York City. By highlighting successful innovations that have been adopted elsewhere and exploring the distinct pressures faced by business owners, this program aims to provide local merchants, community members, and municipal representatives with tools and strategies to safeguard small-scale retail, drive economic development, and establish a constituency pushing for policy reform.
Moderator Adam Friedman, Executive Director of New York Industrial Retention Network, will lead an expert panel including: Vicki Weiner, Director of Planning and Preservation, Pratt Center for Community Development; John Shapiro, Chair, Graduate Center for Planning and Environment, and Partner of Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates; Makalé Faber Cullen, Director of Social Ventures, Center for the Urban Environment; and Tom Cowell, Economic Development Policy Analyst, Office of the Manhattan Borough President. FREE. Reserve your place online.

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.

This blog intends to connect our Task Force and the public with opportunities to participate in shaping the city's future, and to inform about issues related to planning, decision-making, equity, social justice, and public participation.

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