Watching the movie Citizen Jane: Battle for the City in class gave me a more deepened understanding and fostered my belief about what makes a neighborhood a neighborhood.
Jane Jacobs was a Journalist who lived in the Soho area and was startled and disgusted to hear that Robert Moses proposed to run an expressway through Washington Square Park. Through her journalistic talent and apt for organization, Jane was able to get the attention of the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. With public outcry and the sarcastic, chauvinistic antics of Robert Moses, Washington Square Park was saved.
Throughout this film what resonated most to me was community organization and the power we have if we exercise it. It was the community that stopped the expressway from segregating Soho and destroying their park. This holds true today in the Gowanus area. So far the community has rallied together to not ban but slow down the process of development in the Gowanus. Their voice along with organizations like The Gowanus Conservancy gives them the power to have input in future developments along the Gowanus and access to the canal via pvt donation of public spaces.
Last week we went on a walking tour to speak to residents in the Gowanus to learn their views regarding development on the canal. My group and I was able to talk with a Sales Agent, Kristina Teiro, at the new luxury rental development. Interestingly, Kristina spoke about how the Developer and Architect was sensitive to the streescape of surrounding housing stock and the importance of continuing community involvement by opening up their studios to local artists within the Gowanus, having free breakfast every morning for their residents (in the building), as well as other activities that supports “getting to know your neighbor/community.”
Having a clearer understanding that a neighborhood is a “functional system of complex order not chaos”, Jane Jacobs…. I as a future Developer will continue to keep this motto within my business plan and take cues from the Gowanus Conservancy and Developers.
The word I can best use to describe my feelings about this documentary “My Brooklyn” is Anger! I am angry that communities and peoples livelihood don’t matter to our government and political officials. I am not too angry at the Developers because they only have one goal, to make money, whereas our Councilman, Mayor, and other city officials have an obligation to protect and serve their constituents.
I found it interesting that “red lining” not only occurred in Harlem but all boroughs where there were Black and Hispanic families. Even throughout this financial quarantine, entrepreneurs of all races kept Downtown Brooklyn a float and served a need box companies wouldn’t dare fill.
Two areas in the film made me sick to my stomach. One was when the film maker was interviewing different races about what Albee Square Mall is to the community and white people who didn’t understand that community felt it was like a cancer that needed to be cut out and discarded with no regard to the people it served. The second was an advertisement for the new stores replacing Albee Square Mall and everyone depicted in this advertisement was white…
But to play “devils advocate” I also blame these communities, because we allow these changes to occur. As a majority we don’t get involved and by the time we do, its normally too late. Understanding that who we put in office plays such an important role in fostering gentrification and racial blacklisting you would expect folks to be angry and utilize their political voice but they don’t. A few grass-root organizations aren’t enough to make change. We as an entire community need to be involved.
How can we expect to have leaders or developers with a conscious if we as a nation don’t stand up. Zoning and gentrification go hand in hand. Urban communities are at loss because its residents don’t understand their stake.
What I am learning from this class, through these films, field visits, and guest speakers is zoning can be a detriment to any community as well as not being informed and using your political right to question… I believe gentrification could be a good thing if we learned how to have inclusion and a balance.
On September 14, 2017, we had our first guest speaker, Joseph Alexiou, who came and talked about the history of the Gowanus. Joseph is the author of Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal, a self-proclaimed history nerd and a Registered Tour Guide.
In 1766 the Gowanus was a salt water creek otherwise known as a salt marsh. The brackish water a mixture of salt and fresh water lent itself to a prosperous ecosystem that allowed oysters, fish, crabs, eels, dolphins, whales, hemp, and jute to flourish.
The Gowanus is an 8-mile-long estuary made into a canal and used as an Industrial/Commercial waterway. Twenty-six thousand vessels would bring 100 million dollars’ worth of goods to Brooklyn and New York via the canal. As Brooklyn grew so did its population resulting in a high dense area. Mixed with Industrial pollutants and sewage by 1870 the Gowanus was deemed a nuisance by the Board of Health. All the wildlife died and the canal took on a lavender color from the crude oil and other wastes.
Throughout the decades there have been unsuccessful attempts to clean the Gowanus Canal. The Water Treatment Plant, erected in 1906s’ goal was to bring oxygenated water into the canal and push pollutants out to the Basin. To date the Gowanus is still suffering from pollutants and toxins in their waters. The industrial waste sources are from manufactured gas plants, power stations, coal yards, chemical production, concrete and asphalt plants and paint and ink factories. Sediment of these pollutants are 20’ thick.
Due to our need for more housing and scarcity of land in 2004 developers saw the Gowanus as a great site for residential development. The former Mayor Bloomberg and friends controlled the land via zoning but with community opposition the Federal Government stepped in and labeled the Gowanus a Superfund Site. New York City (Bloomberg) and the major developers, the Toll Brothers, did not want the stigma of the Gowanus being labeled a Superfund Site so they appealed to the Federal Government to allow the City of New York to manage the cleanup of the Gowanus. This enabled spot zoning of a site to be approved hence resulting in the current luxury rental residential development along the Gowanus Canal.
What I found most fascinating about Joseph’s history about the Gowanus is the true reason the City of New York didn’t want the Federal Government to intervene and label the area a Superfund Site. Not only would it cause delays in development but the biggest culprit responsible for the pollution in the Gowanus is New York City. New York City doesn’t want to be financially held liable for the expensive and expansive cleanup of the Gowanus. To me understanding the history of failed attempts by wealthy businessmen and the city itself, I would want the city to be more proactive in cleaning up the Gowanus correctly instead of looking at their bottom line and have a Federal Appointed Committee oversee the cleanup. Currently the expected date for the Gowanus Canal cleanup is 2030. Too long and too far away…
Hi, my name is Lisa and I live on the upper westside of Manhattan known as Hamilton Heights. My street encompasses 151st Street between Amsterdam Ave and Broadway. On my block, we have five to six story buildings that are primarily walkups. A few of the buildings on my block are coops and the remainder are rentals. All the buildings are from the early 1900’s, so we have large apartments which offsets, for me, having to walk up five flights every day.
My street is lined with trees which helps to make the neighborhood attractive. All the buildings on 151st Street are brick buildings with Grecian ornamentation. The front of every building has a fire escape for each floor and prewar apartments. The buildings are of a warm color (tans, brown, and red brick); some buildings have a stoop while others are ground level.
Now that Harlem is so popular, there are many eateries, cafes, and pubs in the neighborhood lining Broadway. On the corner of Amsterdam, I have a Bodega that stays open 24 hours and delivers anything I want and off Broadway a Brick Oven Pizzeria.
Within the immediate area I have seven buses all within walking distance and six trains. I can travel from the West Side of Manhattan to the East Side with ease. Our major shopping district is 125th Street. On 125 you have a lot of urban stores and main stream outlets like The Gap, Banana Republic, and Bed Bath and Beyond. The most significant change on 125 is the Whole Foods Supermarket which opened up this summer.
The most important part of living on 151st Street are the people. On this block, we have a mixture of ethnic groups; Dominican, Black, Jamaican, and White. This is to me the genius loci of my street, a true sense of community. Once you are accepted on my block, everyone looks out for you and your family.
During the summer, a lot of the residents sit in front of their respective buildings playing music or listening to the old timers. This summer we had our first block BBQ at our neighboring Riverside Park. Within the neighboring streets we have three churches, a community center, the famous Dance Theatre of Harlem, a few grocery stores, and Trinity Church Cemetery. Down the block is the prominent Convent Ave which has always been known for their Brownstones and picturesque street. The brownstones on Convent Ave are predominantly black owned which gives me a sense of pride. One block away from Broadway is Riverside Drive. Riverside Drive have buildings ranging from ten to fifteen stories, brownstones, a stretch of park benches, bike paths, a mini playground and a clear view of the Hudson River and New Jersey. We have two major colleges; City College and Columbia University.
To me there is no other place like Harlem; a dense, urban city within New York City. Harlem in its entirety is a genius locus. The spirit of Harlem welcomes everyone who decides to call it home.