Thursday, November 20, 2014

Of Councilman Brad Lander, Pratt Center For Community Development, And The Final Bridging Gowanus Meeting Next Monday

First Bridging Gowanus meeting, December 2013
Councilman Brad Lander at first Bridging Gowanus meeting in December 2013
Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 2.37.34 PM
NYCity proposed rezoning for Gowanus presented to the community in 2008

Almost exactly a year ago, Councilman Brad Lander convened the first public meeting for Bridging Gowanus, "a series of public meetings to develop a neighborhood framework for the infrastructure and land use plan needed for a safe, vibrant and sustainable Gowanus."
The December 2013 meeting was hosted jointly with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, State Assemblywoman Joan Millman, and Councilmember Steven Levin. To facilitate the conversation about a shared, sustainable vision for the Gowanus, Councilman Lander had hired and paid Pratt Center for Community Development (not to be confused with Pratt Institute) as consultant in charge of running the planning process.

The community came out in force to participate in that first meeting. Subsequent Bridging Gowanus community meetings in March and June 2014 were equally well attended.

According to Councilman Lander, the end result of the process will be "a community supported blueprint for an environmentally safe, vibrant, and sustainable Gowanus to inform the DeBlasio Administration."

The draft community planning framework from the Gowanus Bridging initiative will be presented by our Councilman at a final meeting this coming Monday, November 24 at 6:30, at PS 32  317 Hoyt St, Brooklyn.

Exactly how this final document will be used is questionable. It is doubtful that the community's wishes will make any difference to the De Blasio administration. Bill De Blasio's record as Councilman in our district, which includes Gowanus, is shameful. He supported the spot re-zoning of two large toxic  manufacturing lots adjacent to the Gowanus Canal to mixed-use to allow residential development, and then lobbied against the US EPA Superfund clean-up of the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal.

It is interesting to note that 'Bridging Gowanus' is not the first time the community is asked to envision the future of the neighborhood. Back in 2007, Pratt Center helped convene Gowanus Summit, "a coalition of civic, housing and community development, manufacturing, and labor groups to establish ground rules for development around the Gowanus Canal."
The summit  "aimed to ensure that new development meets the needs of area residents and sets high standards for local quality of life."

The report prepared by Pratt in October 2007 for Gowanus Summit called for:
-Affordable housing: at least 30% of apartments in developments of over 30 units should be permanently affordable to families at a wide range of incomes. On the city-owned site of the former gasworks on Smith Street, 60% of new housing should be affordable.

-Space for industrial jobs must be preserved.

-Responsible contractors and operators are essential on all large projects: employers that treat their workers fairly, create good job opportunities for local residents, deliver quality construction products, and operate quality developments, without unnecessary harm to the community.

-Respect for community context: While allowing for new development and additional density in the canal area, rezoning must limit out-of-scale development in residential sections of Carroll Gardens.

-Promote the mix of uses that make Gowanus special by establishing a special district designed to enable artisans and light industry and artisans to flourish.
Improve the infrastructure and environmental quality of the Canal and the surrounding area, including a comprehensive storm water management plan. New construction should be held to high standards of environmental performance and take measures to reduce sewage overflows.

Shortly afterwards, in May 2008, the New York City Department of City Planning released its Gowanus Canal Corridor Draft Zoning Proposal.  The agency was ready to push the re-zoning through, though there was much opposition in the community.  Most importantly, City Planning obviously had not incorporated much of what  Gowanus Summit had called for.
The re-zoning was eventually put on hold after the EPA declared the Gowanus Canal a Superfund.

Which brings us back to the present.  "Gowanus Summit" has been renamed "Bridging Gowanus." Pratt Center is earning money a second time to create a nice colorful presentation and interpret what they think the community said, and we have a Councilman who is probably using the process so that he will be able to say that he gave local residents a chance to "have a voice." Once again, the City and the developers long ago decided the future of the Gowanus Community.

Make no mistake.  City Planning, this time under Mayor De Blasio,  is probably ready to step out with a full fledged Gowanus Plan. It most probably will be the same one shown to the community in 2008, just with different graphics. We will be told that City planning 'listened to the wishes of local residents" and we will know that it's a lie.

As Councilman Lander is asking us to convene one last time  for Bridging Gowanus, it behooves all of us to come together and to ask him to put his words into action and to give some power back to the community.
We should all demand a process of validation at the end of Bridging Gowanus.  Is the document really a reflection of what the community envisioned at the meetings?  We should be able to vote to make sure of that.

Bridging Gowanus could be the beginning of so much.  It could be a new forward-thinking, true democratic community planning process. Let's see if Councilman Lander, who prides himself on giving power (and a vote) back to the people through Participatory Budgeting, is courageous enough  to give his Gowanus constituents a real voice.


Anonymous said...

What basis do we have for believing that anything we do, ask for or demand will make the slightest difference in the outcome?

Katia said...

Exactly. We need to demand that assurance from Brad.

Catelyn Hoyt St. said...

With all the effort Councilman Lander's office exerted to get people involved in the participatory budget process, why isn't Councilman Lander exerting as much effort in this far more important case?

I was called numerous times by Lander's office to participate in what was touted as the "democratic and participatory budget" process.

Where are those phone calls and that voting process right now? Isn't this is a much bigger and more important thing to vet public? I surely was never called for the Bridging Gowanus Meetings.

Although I participated in the participatory budget process, and although I am a member of several community organizations, I was always worried Councilman Lander's participatory budget was a ruse to trick the public into believing we really have a say in our community's collective future. And to trick us into believing Brad Lander was indeed listening to our community voices. And to trick us into thanking him with our votes for Brad Lander in the future.

However, was it merely a nice PR trick for Councilman Lander so he could merely take the process to the City Council and the media to win some pats on the back and some applause?

I do pray NOT.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

The participatory budgeting business does seem like a low-stakes distraction from major long-term issues. I have found Lander's representation disappointing, and his office unresponsive to constituent community problems. He's certainly politically ambitious though.

Anonymous said...

onemorefoldedsunset hit the nail on the head. Participatory budgeting is peanuts compared to the impact that the Gowanus planning process could have on our lives.

Anonymous said...

I used to live near the Lower East Side in the late 90's/early 00's and that neighborhood had a lot of character. Once the LES was re-zoned to have a multitude of high-rises, the character evaporated. Please no high rises; the Gowanus has a wonderful character.

Anonymous said...

Brad Lander is in for a rude awakening come re-election time. A group of individuals from his district have recruited a competent, honest, progressive, and community-oriented candidate that is going to take the district by storm. We have the funds pledged for the undertaking and a campaign team unprecedented at the City Council election level. Brad Lander has not only been an embarrassment, but he has failed his constituents in a spectacular manner. We are not only going to win this election, but will also stop Mr. Lander's political career dead in its tracks. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Hey at 1:30PM I hope you're for real.

Katia, your post mentions that State Senator Montgomery was one of the electeds who convened this process but her name is missing from the materials released today such as the electeds' cover letter. I wonder if it was an oversight of if she is distancing herself from Bridging Gowanus.

James S. said...

Re: "State Senator Montgomery was one of the electeds who convened this process but her name is missing from the materials released today such as the electeds' cover letter. I wonder if it was an oversight of if she is distancing herself from Bridging Gowanus." I sincerely hope the latter is true. I have always thought very highly of Senator Montgomery.

Anonymous said...

I guess I misunderstood the purpose of this process. I thought the end result would be some type of draft map but instead we get a barely useable website and a wish list.

This is fine, but the question on a lot of people's minds is where our pols and city planning envision allowing additional height. From reading this proposal that even what government agencies are obligated or have committed to do (NYCHA sewer and elevator maintenance, PS 32 expansion) requires expanding the tax base through density. If this is indeed the case, the NYC is in dire straits.

Also, has anyone spoken to NYCHA residents about the proposal to use NYCHA parking lots to site senior housing and maybe affordable retail and services?