Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Post 30: Coalition's meeting with DCP

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

Whether the CWG members were exhausted by the internal divisions described in the last post or the members were simply responding to the city's rejection of the plan, the CWG was unable to meet. For the next six months or so I despaired of its future. I believed CWG had great potential for Chinatown as a community planning group not oriented towards development and "revitalization" (business code for upscaling, gentrifying and maximizing profit), a community group in which tenant associations and labor organizations could have a clear voice and leverage. For months I heard nothing from anyone in CWG including anyone from the Coalition of even from BAN, the only organizations that seemed not to have left the group. CWG had no co-chairs to convene a meeting, did not meet, and there was no sign that it would ever meet again.

However, it was not inert or inactive. 

Margaret, the ED of Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), brought coalition members and its allies to a meeting with DCP. This was exactly what I'd hoped would happen -- CWG taking up the plan and not leave it to the CB's. 

The meeting with DCP was in some ways predictable and in others surprising. On the predictable side, the Coalition made its demand that the plan be taken up as a whole by DCP, and DCP, represented by Edith the Manhattan Deputy Exec Dir at the time (and now ED of all of DCP), rejected it. On the unpredictable side were the answers to questions I put to Edith. As mentioned previously, my goal in meeting with authorities is to get something from them, even if it's no more than a bit of information. I asked her what DCP would like to see in Chinatown. Her answer was, DCP doesn't know what it wants in Chinatown. I asked, hasn't DCP looked at Chinatown to determine DCP's preferred possibilities? Her answer, DCP doesn't research a neighborhood until it takes up a rezoning proposal. DCP hasn't researched Chinatown? How can DCP reject a plan without knowing anything about the area of the plan? At this point some DCP flunky (forgive me, I mean "recent hire") intervened, but these answers were really enough. They imply that DCP is waiting for a development proposal that will alter what currently exists in the neighborhood, not a plan designed to protect what's there. Of course what exists in the neighborhood are its residents, the people who work there and the existing context and resources. The city's planning, in other words, does not concern who's there, but whom it wants to bring there. It is a picture in which the ordinary people are too little to be seen and given account. 

This was perfectly expressed by Brian Paul, an urban planner working for a time with the Coalition: "The Department of City Planning doesn't do city planning. It plans development." The difference is invisible to DCP. 

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