Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Community Came Out In Force To Participate In Last Night's "Bridging Gowanus" Meeting

Councilman Brad Lander
Councilman Brad Lander with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
State Assemblywoman Joan Millman
Councilmember Steven Levin
Elena Conte of Pratt Center
An impressive crowd gathered at the Children's School on Carroll Street last night to participate in  the first in a series of  public meetings on the future of Gowanus.  Convened jointly by Councilmember Brad Lander, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, State Assemblywoman Joan Millman,  and Councilmember Steven Levin,  'Bridging Gowanus' is meant to develop "a framework for the infrastructure and land use needed for a safe, vibrant and sustainable Gowanus."

Councilman Lander  told the community that this is an important moment to kick off a broad community conversation about the Gowanus area.  First, the Environmental Protection Agency has just reached a Record Of Decision, and the plan for the clean-up of the Gowanus Canal is now firmly in place.  Secondly,  the past storms and resulting flooding have shown that the area is in need for climate protection. Thirdly, there is a new administration in City Hall.  Lander seems to have high hopes for Mayor-elect DeBlasio, but DeBlasio's Gowanus record is questionable at best, having lobbied against the Superfund clean-up

To facilitate the conversation about a shared, sustainable vision for the Gowanus, Councilman Lander has hired and paid Pratt Center for Community Development (not to be confused with Pratt Institute) as consultant in charge of running the planning process.
During the summer and fall, the Center held meetings and interviews with representatives from local organizations and neighborhood associations. The findings from those interviews were presented by Elena Conte last night.

According to Pratt Insititute,  during those interviews with stakeholders,  important shared values and goals emerged.  Here are some of these goals:

-Keep the area as diverse as possible. 

- Keep a mix of uses in the Gowanus so that existing businesses in the area can stay and thrive.  Light manufacturing should be allowed to co-exist with artists and residents.

-Preserve existing and create new affordable housing.

-Encourage employment and economic growth opportunity.

-Fix the social, cultural and environmental infrastructure of the neighborhood. The community expressed the need for more school seats,  expand transit and sewage capacity,  open public land,  as well as upgrades in broad band and fibre optics.

-Address environmental challenges associated with Coastal disasters as well as pollution and issues associated with Combined Sewer Overflow discharges into the Gowanus Canal.  Achieve resiliency after floods.

-Preserve iconic historic buildings

-Keep the Gowanus Canal as an open and accessible body of water.

The community, as a whole, seemed to agree that it wanted "to preserve the overarching character of Gowanus", its "grittiness", its human scale, and the view of the sky. 

Personally, I was impressed  that so many people showed up last night.  It indicates that people really want to be involved and want to have a say in the area's future.
I did, however, have a real problem with the way the meeting was set up.  It seemed very strange that Pratt's presentation did not include a map of the area we were discussing.  How can a meaningful, informed conversation  take place without knowledge of the boundaries  and present uses of the area in question?
I was also surprised that residents were separated into groups, so that discussions were limited to individual tables.  The conversation that followed Pratt's presentation would have been more inclusive if it had engaged all the residents at the same time.
I was rather bothered that there was no mention of the 700-unit, twelve story rental building by Lightstone Group that seems to be going full speed ahead between Carroll Street and Second Street along the canal.  The two blocks were previously spot-rezoned from industrial to mixed-use, which allows residential use.

Most importantly, there was no indication at all either by Brad Lander or by Pratt Center of how to actually achieve a zoning plan that incorporates all of the community's wishes.  Historically, areas that have been re-zoned as mixed use almost always become all residential over time,  simply because land becomes more valuable if housing can be built on it and because there is a lack of compatibility between new residents and existing manufacturing.  Hopefully more details will come from the working groups and further discussions.

According to Councilman Lander's office, "the end result of the Bridging Gowanus process will be a community supported blueprint, released in Summer 2014, for an environmentally safe, vibrant, and sustainable Gowanus to inform the DeBlasio Administration."
We need to make sure that the blueprint is a real reflection of what the community wishes. That means we all need to stay involved, on our guard and make sure that incoming Mayor DeBlasio actually listens to us.


Martin Bisi said...

Well, the whole end of the meeting was rushed. iI have to just trust that the facilitators will take the comments from all the tables, and that they'll be applied to some kind of official presentation/statement. because in past such meetings, the consensus of each table was reported back to everyone.
I think if the process in these meetings really shows that people can have an impact on a community voice, they'll keep coming back.
So the process should be transparent. Maybe a show of hands in the whole assembly (by all the residents) can be done, for each consensus point reached by the tables. So it's immediately apparent how much support there is for a point of view, which then forces the organizers to include it.
I think what Lander/Pratt Center are trying is a model for direct and horizontal democracy, and i'd love to see it work, but it's a difficult process, much more difficult than plain old representative democracy. And the process might need to be tweeked for this kind of NYC diversity.

Anonymous said...

So everyone was on the same page: keep anyone else out! Maintain the area exactly as it has been. NO PROGRESS.

Anonymous said...

to Martin Bis: A show of hands would have made sense to anyone who believed the organizers were looking to gauge the consensus amoung those who took the time to attend the meeting. But the organizers were spoon feeding the group exactly what the group consensus was, even before the tables had a chance to talk.
If the organizers called for show of hands on anything, they would have put their control over defining the consensus for the community, and they aren't willing to take any chance that the community may have other notions that what they claim we have.

Agnes said...

Who is paying the Pratt Center for this study? And Yes, why was there no map and no full group discussion? This takes away full transparency as whoever piles up the info can nudge it however they want. i saw this happen with earlier community efforts with Gowanus envisionings. And not mentioning Lightstone is avoiding the elephant in the room. So glad that there was a huge community turnout.

Katia said...

Agnes, I believe that Councilman Brad Lander paid Pratt for this using his discretionary fund.

Anonymous said...

Politicians and presenters finished about 90 min. into the 2hr mtg leaving 30 min. for community input.

The room was filled mostly with people who don't live, work or play in the Gowanus neighborhood so it will be interesting to see what you decide is best for us?

I would like to have heard what was discussed at the other groups.

I agree Lightstone should be leading the conversation with Pratt as the +1,000 new residents will represent the majority population of the Gowanus neighborhood.

C.B. Family since before St. Agnes said...

I know it sounds "Unheard of" but once the meeting began - BEFORE presentations - why weren't attendees asked (and perhaps prove) where they live. Show your ID and your ConEd bill. Show some ID and your tax bill.
If you don't live in a surrounding Zip Code then you don't have a voice (or at least not a voting voice)