Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fight the cuts!

There's only one week left to state budget negotiations in Albany. Now's the time to write letters to the papers about the need for tax reform, sign the petition and call Governor Paterson and State Senate Majority Leader Smith (the State Assembly is already on board).

Proposed cuts to schools, hospitals, and the social services will not only harm ordinary New Yorkers but will impair our already hurting local economy, increase unemployment, stifle spending, close small and vulnerable businesses and force a downward spiraling crisis just when New Yorkers and the New York economy most need support.

There is immense wealth in this state, yet those who have it pay the same tax rate as those who don't, and actually pay a smaller share of their income than working families. We need New Yorkers who can afford to share, who have seen their taxes cut over and over throughout the last thirty years, to begin giving just a little bit more. Will the rich flee if taxed more? Not according to studies quoted in the Times:

Sign the petition here:

If you earn over $200,000/yr United for a Fair Economy needs your voice:

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith
(212) 298-5585

Governor Paterson

Send letters:

(Bear in mind that papers like the Times, News and Post don't print letters longer than three or four sentences.)

from Picture the Homeless

Claim property for low-income neighbors, demand action from city government

El Barrio/East Harlem, NYC. —Homeless people have taken over an empty building in East Harlem, as part of a coordinated push-back against city policies that let buildings stay empty. The building, which is owned by the city, has been completely vacant for decades.

Deborah Dickerson, a homeless woman who is one of the organizers of the takeover, says “This building is dead. The city killed it. We're going in there to revive this building, and there are many more. We're not going to stop until all of these buildings have people in them. Let these buildings go!”

A massive banner hanging from the roof says THEY SAY GENTRIFY/ WE SAY OCCUPY. Community support for the takeover is high, with neighbors rallying on the sidewalk in support of the event. Neighborhood resident and community leader Gloria QuiƱones says, “In my forty years of community activism on this issue, I have never seen things get so desperate. Families are doubled and tripled up while there are vacant city-owned properties and no plans to use them to house low-income folks. This is disgraceful! We know the Mayor is a great businessman and he's one of the richest people in the world, he can do much better than having poor people living on the streets.”

Local elected officials are also signaling their support for the takeover. East Harlem City Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito stated “Today's action is an exciting development and should send a message that the situation has grown too serious to ignore; that low-income New Yorkers are becoming more frustrated as they wait for the city to solve the housing crisis and that we must not hesitate in our search for creative solutions to our most pressing housing challenges.”
Organizers of the building takeover are demanding that the City Council pass new legislation to turn vacant city-owned buildings into housing for the homeless, and a commitment from city officials to conduct an annual citywide count of all vacant buildings and lots.

Dickerson adds, “Being homeless is one of the most degrading things that can happen to any human being. And for too long, people have presumed to speak for the homeless. We have a voice, we are human beings, and we deserve to live. It's too long that the warehousing has gone on. We want housing. Let the warehousing stop. We want to live in a home like everybody else. The city has made enough money on us. We want our legislation to go through. We want the city to count up all these empty buildings and lots. And we want truly-affordable housing for low-income and homeless people.”
Press Rendezvous: Meet at the corner of 116th & Lexington at 12:45PM, Thursday March 19th

For interviews with homeless people and neighborhood residents on the inside of the building, call 718-593-1979. In addition, leaders of the building takeover will be Twittering from the inside. Follow and hashtag #bldgtakeover.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lessons from the future

Picture the Homeless is hosting a "Report Back from Miami: Take Back the Land," at the Graduate Center, Monday, March 16th from 5-7pm, 365 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, Room 9206 (9th floor), (6 train to 33rd Street, BDFVNQRW to 34th Street/Herald Square). Take Back the Land is liberating foreclosed and vacant houses in Miami, and moving in freshly-homeless families. Applications in NYC? There are a lot of warehoused apartments here...
Read more at their site

Monday, March 02, 2009


Acting chair of the Chinatown Working Group Jim Solomon points out to me that the zoning team didn't actually vote on their list of guiding principles, but left them open to further refinement. At this point, he says, "all work product coming from the Working Teams is still very much a work-in-progress."

That's good, if the future discussion of those principles is guided by people who actually live in Chinatown, not just the outside voices, expert or otherwise.

He emphasizes "the success of the Chinatown Working Group will ultimately depend on the active participation of Chinatown's stakeholders. Outreach continues to be a CWG priority, as it is seeking input from a broad cross-section of the community."

It may be that many of the few Chinatown residents attending the zoning meeting were journalists, not participants. If that's so, that's not so good. Leaving a possible rezoning of Chinatown to outsiders, expert or not, courts disaster.

If it's zoning jargon that stands in the way of participation, it shouldn't. Once past a few measures like FAR (floor area ratio), the rest is easy, though not without an occasional complication. The most important part of zoning is deciding what you want for your neighborhood. No acronyms there: it's just expressing your views and listening to others.

Check out Zoning for Dummies on this blog for an introduction. It's geared towards the EV/LES rezoning, written early in the process before changes were made in the plan and in tax law, but the basics are all there. City Planning (DCP) has a glossary and other good stuff on its site. You can even download the whole zoning text there, if you're looking for a real page turner.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Chinatown working teams

I've been to three meetings of Chinatown Working Group 'teams' (euphemism for "committee," word that stifles all hope). Pleurisy, the devil's own invention, prevented me from attending a fourth team.

The cultural preservation team and the affordability team devoted their time to discussion, raising important issues and observing the challenges to resolving them. Wisely, no decisions were made. Instead, the teams took their first meeting as an opportunity to gain a sense of the group and a sense of direction.

The zoning team, by contrast, immediately drew up and voted on a list of desiderata without first gaining any sense of group direction. The result was a laundry list of items some of which seem to me to conflict, if not contradict one another.

I noticed that Chinatown residents participated fully at the cultural and especially at the affordability team, where the discussion seemed to me deepest. Chinatown residents participated least in the disappointing zoning team discussion. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned there.

Full disclosure: I don't live in Chinatown (though I work there) and I did participate in the discussions.

The argument for bringing in outside meddlers seems to rest on the diversity and lack of consensus within Chinatown. Several members of the cultural team cited plans for a Chinatown arch that have gone nowhere although the City Council long ago designated funds for it, the moral being, you can't even get consensus in Chinatown on a free arch.

Hell, I don't know whether this whole enterpise will succeed, but I wouldn't be discouraged by an unbuilt arch! It may seem a paltry and easy task, but building an arch is actually just the kind of project that courts controversy: it's public, symbolic, supplies no need directly yet can favor one area over another and alters the experience of the common space for everyone in a seemingly gratuitous, authoritarian, paternalistic way. Of course it hasn't been built!

Not all projects court controversy. Creating and supporting a space for a cultural center, for example, supplies a need directly and daily, doesn't have to be seen by any but those who use and love it and doesn't force anyone to accept its symbolism, if it has any symbolism; it provides without taking. Where's the controversy?

Ah, Chinatown leaders sound like East Village activists: "it can't be done here, we're too factious." Well, if pessimistic complaints must precede accomplishment, so be it. I have confidence in this process...if only we outsiders can listen more and talk less.