Volume 75, Number 24 | November 02 - 08, 2005


Recent gains are making us believers

Recent exhilarating victories by community groups have us believing that great outcomes at the grassroots level can be accomplished if groups of individuals get together to build coalitions and do the hard work that needs to be done to achieve a goal.

This is nowhere more evident than in two recent wins by community groups and park organizations on behalf of park space versus municipal uses, specifically Department of Sanitation facilities.

Canal Park started as the vision of a small group of Tribeca and Hudson Square residents eight years ago. The story of how they discovered that the bleak traffic triangle at Canal and West Streets was once a stately park, and how they were then able to get the city to re-create this historic park, is truly inspiring. The members of the ad-hoc Canal West Coalition dusted off original documents to discover that the park had never been officially demapped as parkland when it was taken over last century as a staging area for the construction of the Holland Tunnel. Of course, however, it took a lawsuit to convince the city of the righteousness of their cause. This eight-year effort prevailed and just two weeks ago the new park was officially opened.

On Gansevoort Peninsula, a park-advocacy group, Friends of Hudson River Park, last week won a huge victory in getting the city to settle their lawsuit over the drawn-out departure of the sanitation district garages from the peninsula.

Under the Hudson River Park Act, sanitation was supposed to vacate the peninsula two years ago. The city says that, for various reasons, it’s hard to find space for a new garbage truck garage. But the lawsuit settlement is at least making the city pay to stay on the pier, and establishes a new vacate deadline of 2012. The settlement also provides for sanitation to vacate Pier 97 at West 57th Street by 2008. If sanitation stays on Gansevoort until 2012, a total of $21.5 million will be paid to the Hudson River Park Trust, with the money going to develop Gansevoort and Pier 97 into parts of the 5-mile-long park.

These gains have been inspiring, but so have been others. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s efforts to pull off the downzoning of the Far West Village and push for consideration of two new Far West Village historic are a case study in coalition building and effective community mobilization. Similarly, the new East Village Community Coalition has really shown us something with their work to save the old P.S. 64 and help move ahead a downzoning of the East Village and Lower East Side.

There are too many worthy, results-achieving community groups to mention here. Of course, at the grassroots, it all starts with committed individuals, block associations, community gardens, political clubs, volunteering. And more often than not, these community victories are years in the making. It takes perseverance to stay the course and keep one’s eyes on the prize. But these recent victories have renewed our faith that with a steadfast commitment, dreams really can be achieved.

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