Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Post 23: The CWG first public town hall and the Coalition

As always, with the exception of public figures, I use altered names to protect the individuals in this history.

Prior to the restructuring, the CWG arranged a town hall meeting in P.S.124. The event was poorly planned and again reflected the top-down presentation-to-sessile-audience model of CWG administration. It was something of a mess and ill received. CWG never again repeated that model, instead using charrettes and tables where attendees could choose what to look at and self-direct their attention. 

Outside the presentation, the Coalition mounted an angry protest accusing the event and its organizers as racist. The CWG had long before drawn its boundaries to include the the NYCHA properties along the waterfront and the Two Bridges area, so it's not clear to me what the Coalition was protesting at this point. The CWG presentation was not really about proposals, since as I recall the committees hadn't yet produced any. Its intent, as I understood it, was to bring awareness to the local public that there was a CWG and to explain its purpose. 

A few months after the event and its protest and prior to the restructuring, CSWA and the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS), members of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, finally did join CWG. I don't know why the Coalition members chose to abandon their boycott -- as I say, the expansion of its boundaries had not only been established long before the protest, it was one of CWG's first decisions -- but their decision to join was an encouraging sign. There were far too few representatives of the ordinary people of Chinatown and NYCHA in the CWG and far too many gentrifying interests. Chinatown Partnership was there apparently to prevent CWG from impeding their effort to impose a Business Improvement District for Chinatown, although a BID was never a topic of discussion for CWG. Edison Properties was there presumably to upzone its developable lots. AAFE attended to promote affordable housing, which, as was mentioned in a previous post, entails collusion with market-rate developers. 

Prior to the Coalition's joining, the voice of anti-gentrification was left to CAAAV alone, unless landmarking counts as anti-gentrification, in which case BAN would be included among anti-gentrificationists. But landmarking, while it pretty much precludes development, has little effect on gentrification. If landlords can't sell to a developer, then their only source of revenue is rent, so the pressure of gentrification rests on the landlord and rent hikes and harassing and evicting current tenants to bring in tenants willing to pay higher rents. This is equally true of downzoning. It curtails development, but cannot prevent gentrification so long as the locality is seen as desirable to tenants able to pay high rents. "Zoning is a coarse grained tool" says every urban planner or politician with knowledge of zoning. It's a euphemism for "zoning can't prevent displacement." 

Nonetheless, the Coalition asked Tom Angotti of Hunter College's Urban Planning Department, to come up with a zoning plan for Chinatown and areas to the east all the way to the waterfront. He presented a broad downzoning plan not unlike one of the EVCC plans for the EV. I'd call it an ideological plan rather than a practical plan, since, as I recall, it violated DCP's principles which includes defining the context of a neighborhood by its typical heights. Angotti's plan took the context as lower than the average building height, so there would be no chance that DCP would accept it. The Chinese property owners would also not have been happy with such a plan. I liked Angotti's plan as an initial demand because it was a straightforward anti-development plan, making no concessions to market-rate construction. 

The Coalition-Angotti plan was presented at a couple of CWG meetings, but CWG did not vote on it, preferring to hire its own consultant and come up with its own plan. 

Edison Properties also developed its own plan, but did not formally present it to CWG. It was distributed and shown but was never a topic of discussion. The plan itself did not appear to me to be serious, since it was specifically designed to promote EP interests. And it was not taken seriously by CWG members except that its existence was a warning that EP might present it elsewhere in the future. 

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