Volume 79, Number 24 | November 18 - 24, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Seward Park renewal

A rally Sunday at Delancey and Suffolk Sts. marked the 42nd anniversary of the wholesale razing of blocks of residential buildings and small retail shops on the Lower East Side in the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. The obliteration of an organic community, it caused the displacement of 1,850 households, home to many working-class people. Some of those individuals got housing in new projects that were built on parts of the renewal site — which is located just south of the Williamsburg Bridge approach ramp — including some senior residences and the Housing Authority’s Seward Park Annex.

Yet, as is so starkly evident in the huge parking lot on the renewal area today, the site’s promised redevelopment has been stalled for decades. As a result, a large number of the former residents — and their children and grandchildren — never got new housing in the renewal area. According to housing advocates, though, a “right of return” was promised the area’s former residents and remains active, even more than four decades later.

The city is eager to do something at Seward Park, but first wants a community consensus. Six years ago, the Bloomberg administration pitched a plan with 300 units of low-income and 100 units of middle-income housing on three sites, along with 400,000 square feet of commercial development on two sites. But the outcry, primarily from Co-op Village on Grand St., was so strong the proposal was pulled. The co-ops would like to see “economic development,” and little or no low-income housing, while housing advocates want affordable housing, plus community-friendly small shops.

Stakeholders need to work together to shape a plan acceptable to the community: That means Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Co-op Village leadership, on one hand, and housing activists — including new Councilmember-elect Margaret Chin, a staunch affordable housing advocate — on the other. The forum to hash it all out is Community Board 3’s Land Use, Zoning, Public and Private Housing Committee. Chin will surely bring new energy and commitment to the discussion.
There really is no good reason why a mix of housing, with some economic development (a movie theater, food shops, a hardware store, etc.) shouldn’t be developed on the renewal area.

Of course, now isn’t the time for development, economically speaking — but it can be the moment when a consensus plan is finally worked out. There is a solution, but it will take compromise on both sides.

Same-sex marriage
Gays and lesbians, civil rights advocates and, in general, New Yorkers who value freedom got some good news on Tuesday night Nov. 10: The Democratically controlled state Senate finally committed to bringing the marriage-equality bill to a vote before the end of the year. If it passes, the bill would surely become law since the Assembly has passed this measure twice already.

Governor David Paterson deserves enormous credit for not letting the Democratic Senate leaders dawdle too much longer by insisting they commit to a vote.

The prospects for passage appear promising, although no one knows for sure. Even a defeated bill would at least put everyone on record. We think it would ultimately doom many of the opponents since polls continue to show strong support for marriage rights among the young.

The real reason to pass this measure is to give equal rights (at least under state law) to consenting adult couples who love each other.

How many more weeks and years will these rights be denied by the government?

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