Lower East Side stakeholders gathered yesterday evening to discuss how best to rally together as they call for the transformation of a derelict building into a vibrant community center.
Last week, the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition, in cooperation with other community organizers, staged a brainstorming session and awareness-raising campaign in front of the Stanton Building, a brick edifice near on the northern side of the park that’s currently being used as a storage facility by the Parks Department, in order to get a general sense of what people would like to see happen with it. Yesterday’s meeting aimed to concretize those visions, and to provide the community with the logistical tools needed to advocate for their interests.
Among those who met in the park at the BRC Senior Center were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, representatives of City Council member Margaret Chin and State Assembly member Alice Cancel, and Kathleen Webster, the president of the Park Coalition. Webster said the goal was to help create an “advocacy community” by letting people know how their voices could be heard in local government. “A lot of people don’t know how things actually work,” she said.
Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, echoed this sentiment. “What we’re doing is giving the community tools to be included in the public conversation,” she said, which could be anything from awareness-raising campaigns on social media, understanding the chain of command in city government, and knowing which elected official to contact in order to champion a community cause. Susan Stetzer, district manager of the Community Board 3, explained the importance of issues being placed at the top of the capital priorities for the Community Board’s budget cycle, and how that could be achieved.
At the meeting, people were split into two groups, with one group drawing and describing their own personal visions for the space on photocopied prints of the building’s exterior and its inside space, and the other group getting advice from representatives of the New Yorkers for Parks nonprofit, Common Cause New York, and CB 3. Afterward, the two groups switched.
During the “visualization” session,
excitement about the building’s potential began to rise as everyone shared their thoughts. Some of the most popular ideas were the creation of a bicycle repair co-op, as well as solar-powered WiFi and device-charging stations.
Wendy Brawer, the founding director of Green Map System, a nonprofit that maps green spaces in urban areas, said that, in addition to a bike repair co-op, a space where people could learn the basics of mechanics, repairs, and home economics (sewing, mending, etc) could be a valuable addition to the neighborhood. “A lot of us don’t know how to use tools as all. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could help each other learn these basic life skills?”
She also added that she would like to see the creation of a cart repair station, that would serve the many seniors in the neighborhood.
Other popular ideas were the establishment of showering and toilet facilities for the homeless, as well as a computer center, library or book exchange, and an activities area for people to play sports, board games, or hold meetings. Adding better lighting to the space was another priority, everyone agreed.
Borough President Brewer said she would also really like to see the addition of kitchens in the Stanton Building. “A lot of people cook at home and try to sell it outside, which is actually illegal,” she said, citing the Department of Health’s strict regulations regarding kitchens used for the preparation of food intended for sale. Having regulation kitchens in the building would allow these small business owners to legally make an income.
For Brewer, Webster, and other attendees at the meeting, the real issue lay with the Parks Department, though. Webster said she was tired of hearing that the Parks Department needed the space for storage, particularly when so many other parts of the park where already being used by the department (one part of the park houses its citywide communications center, and another part at the Hester Street walkway houses the district headquarters for Community Board 3 as well as various staff resources for the department).
“Ask the other five boroughs for storage space. We’ve been more than fair with our park space,” Webster said.
There will be a Community Board 3 meeting tonight at 6:30 pm to discuss district budget priorities (which will include the Stanton Building), and the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition will be holding its final meeting on the subject (entitled “Land, Money, Power”) huon July 27 at 6:30pm, at BRC.