This Martin Luther King day, residents from across the city joined Lower East Siders in solidarity, marching against displacement of local communities by luxury developments.
The focus was the construction of luxury mega-towers in the Two Bridges area of the Lower East side, but the march brought together people opposing similar developments in Inwood, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.
“My students are being made homeless, they are going into shelters…there’s a domino effect happening.”
“The tower just encroaches on the community, and shades the project from the sun. I’m also here to defend the Elizabeth Street garden and the Nelson Mandela garden. To turn the neighborhood into luxury towers for people who use them as investments is very wrong.”
“Artists have a lot to learn about how to participate in a community, how to be a neighbor. We are here because we want to protect Chinatown, we want to protect cultural spaces from being destroyed by gentrification, and the dumping of construction projects over here on the waterfront.”
Read “Why We March“, a statement by Art Against Displacement on their solidarity with the march.
More details from the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, on the Two Bridges developments.
The Chinatown Working Group’s Community-led Rezoning Plan.
And City Limits on a joint lawsuit brought against the project by the City Council and Manhattan Borough President, and lawsuits filed by community groups.
On January 16, a group of women was gathered in Tottenville Library, near the Southern Shore of Staten Island, knitting and talking. They meet regularly at the library, including for a weekly book club.
We discussed significant buildings in the town, changes from the past, and the growing risk of climate change.
Protecting the shoreline
Tottenville was badly hit by superstorm Sandy in 2012. Strengthening resiliency to future storms and rising sea levels is fundamentally important for local residents.
“That was the first thing that I asked my daughter when she built [her house] here – are we in a flood zone?”, said Linda, who recently moved from New Jersey to join her daughter. Newly built, and many existing, houses are elevated to protect them from flooding.
The group was excited to describe the Living Breakwaters project which will build a string of offshore breakwaters around the Southern part of the island, resuscitating the once-vibrant Oyster beds. “This borough won an award which allowed them to begin this project, which is very important ecologically,” said Linda.
Led by SCAPE landscape architects, the project won a $60 million grant from the Rebuild By Design program, and aims to “reduce risk, revive ecologies, and connect residents and educators to Staten Island’s southeast shoreline.”
The women are still concerned about what the impact of rising sea levels will be. “Overall, the lack of protection of our boundaries is terrible” said Rita. “[Sandy] was six years ago and they still don’t have a clear action plan.”
A long commute
With limited local employment opportunities, people living on the South Shore experience the City’s longest commutes to work – commutes that can be even longer than in the past, due to the changing nature of work.
“When I first went to work from the South Shore, we wouldn’t even consider working in midtown Manhattan. You took the train and took the ferry, and you walked to work [in lower Manhattan],” said Rita. “That’s where you worked. But that’s when a lot of industry was still there, you had insurance companies, telecoms, Wall Street, that whole span. And the high schools would connect you to companies where you could work.”
The role of the library
The women emphasized the important role of the Tottenville Library in their local community. Dating back to 1904, it’s the oldest and Southernmost library on Staten Island.
They described the change from libraries’ primary role in the past as points of reference where visitors were asked to remain silent, to more of a social hub now that so much information can be found online. For this group of women it has fostered valuable friendships.
Today residents from Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst took Target, the developers Sun-Equity Partners and Heskel Group and the Department of Buildings to the New York Supreme Court. They argued that construction at the 40-31 82nd St site should stop, and that the developers violated zoning regulations that only allow small businesses to be established in the area.
Here’s Grace from Queens Neighborhoods United, on the threat the development poses to local small businesses, and hazards for people accessing Elmhurst hospital just a block away.
As she says in the video, if small businesses have to close, “This is serious for our community, where over 30% of local jobs are provided by local small businesses.”
The judge deferred the ruling to the Board of Standards and Appeal, and denied a stop work order. The next step for the community members is taking the case to the Board of Standards and Appeals on March 7.
There was an interesting exchange in the court proceedings that hinged on the word “monumental”.
“We’re not talking about a monumental edifice here in the middle of a low rise community,” said the developers’ attorney.
To which the plaintiff’s attorney, from the Community Development Project, replied: “This is a monumental construction. It’s not a tower. It is a monumental hole in the middle of a residential neighborhood that is – has – local retail.”
“M’am, monumental is relative,” replied the judge.
“It is, it is relative to this neighborhood,” the plaintiffs’ attorney said.