Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Chinatown Working Group

The Chinatown Working Group met last night. I attended with qualms but left mostly encouraged.

Rather than narrow its focus and hand-pick its membership to speed the process along, the CWG has opted for principles of openness, inclusion and breadth. Narrow focus and selectivity are conducive to speed but also to controversy, as we saw in the EV/LES rezoning. So far, the CWG has not been unwieldy or slow.

The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the LES, the group that led the opposition to the EV/LES rezoning, is not attending the CWG meetings, but its influence is felt in the mission statement and the orientation of the Group and even the fact of its existence: I doubt this Working Group would have been convened at this time and in this way were it not for the Coalition's vigorous, organized and highly public opposition to the EV/LES rezoning.

Judging by their proposed mission and governance structure, the Chinatown Working Group is characterized by

All Chinatown groups are asked to participate. Organizations alone will be allowed a vote in the Group, but individuals are being encouraged to form organizations of their own in order to broaden the voting membership and representation at the ground level. My initial concern that developers' interests would insinuate themselves into the proceedings are somewhat allayed by this structure. And encouraging the formation of local grassroots organizations is a good idea in itself.

Such openness requires broad and equitable outreach, which appears to be a Group priority. CB1 and CB2 have been advertising meetings for some time. I expect CB3 will soon join CB1 and CB2 in announcing the meetings, since most of Chinatown is in CB3.

Inclusive vision
The Group is looking at the broadest implications of its work. Whatever the final boundaries of the area of study, the Group is already looking beyond the narrowest confines of current Chinatown both geographically and temporally with a long-sighted view towards the future.

Breadth of scope
The Group will not confine itself to zoning alone, but will consider comprehensive planning. From their draft mission statement: "truly affordable housing, cultural and historic preservation, economic revitalization, open space. public infrastructure, residential and business displacement, and zoning."

(I expressed my concern that "economic revitalization" not be made a cover for outside commercial or development interests to displace Chinatown's existing commerce and residents. The words "commercial stability" may be added to the mission alongside "economic revitalization." The desire to bring manufacturing into Chinatown -- an important basis for community sustainability unfortunately disappearing from the city -- may also find more explicit expression in the mission statement.)

So far, I see a well-run Group with plenty of talent. All the local electeds have been participating even though they will not have a vote under the proposed governance structure. Community groups are being offered a voting voice in order to encourage broad and regular participation. But participation is a political commitment and many attending are still wary. I imagine they will want to see the Group's direction before throwing in their lot with this initiative. They may prefer to attend as critics than participate only to become targets of criticism. It'll be a challenge.

The Group leadership wants to begin working on real issues as soon as it can, attracting participation as it demonstrates is goals and effectiveness. It also hopes to attract participation by its openness. Both strategies are well taken.

The Group meets again Jan 5 to vote on its mission statement and governance structure. Meanwhile it is considering the boundaries of its "study area."

They are looking for a regular meeting place that can seat at least sixty. If you have any leads, let me know and I'll pass it on. Meetings are held on the first Monday of the month, 4-6pm.


Anonymous said...

sounds great - id be interested in going to this meeting do you know the address?

rob said...

Sorry to take so long to respond. They've had trouble finding a regular meeting place, but it looks like they'll be meeting from now on at 191-193 Canal Street (@Mott) 2nd floor (Kimlau Post of the American Legion), January 5.