Let's Hear it for the Board
Community Board 1 in Post 9/11 New York
Since September 11th, 2001, Manhattan's Community Board No. 1 - one of 59 such boards in Manhattan - has been called above and beyond its usual duties to tend to the needs of residents living in TriBeCa, Battery Park City, the Financial District, the Seaport, and the Civic Center. Community Board 1, or CB1 as it's often called, is an advisory body. The city charter designates its role in such matters as land use, determining local budget priorities, and monitoring city services delivery.
CB1 is an advocate for new programs and facilities required by the district and often works with local and governmental authorities about issues that concern its residents. Board members serve on committees that meet on a monthly basis, often with government officials, developers, property owners, or social service agencies in attendance.
A Changing Mission
CB1's role in the community has changed tremendously over the years since it was first established as the advisory board on local land usage by the city charter. "It's certainly changed in the fact that we [manage] land use, but we also do quality-of-life issues," says CB1 Chairperson Madelyn Wils. "We pretty much are on the forefront if people are unhappy about anything, from loud bars to streets being dug up to advocating for schools or parks. My board is particularly aggressive in those areas." Wils adds that her board differs somewhat from the others because it is in a neighborhood that "wasn't [originally] residential, and therefore the city never built schools and parks for us. So we had to make deals to get them built ourselves."
A Local Voice
Once a month, CB1 and its elected officials meet in open, public sessions with local agencies and any developers that are planning to build a project in the community. According to Wils, the board also holds about 10 different meetings a month on various committee issues, which are then identified and forwarded to the appropriate authorities for resolution.
"Anyone can serve [on the board]," says Wils. "They get appointed by the borough president and the City Council first." She says that board members elect the chair, and that anyone can apply to serve. Active community residents have included the late John Kennedy Jr., who used to attend meetings on waterfront issues. "Anybody can come and comment and bring up an issue," says Wils.
Term limits on board members and chairs fluctuate. Wils says that "a lot of people stay for long periods of time," but that every board can vote on whether or not to impose term limits. She says that while the board has had chairpersons sit for many years at a time, every board deals with the issue of term limits differently.
In addition to the staggering tragedy of the event itself, Wils says 9/11 was "the biggest quality-of-life issue you could have." In addition to the 16-acre hole in the area, many of the surrounding streets were torn up in the rescue, recovery, and rebuilding efforts. According to Wils, people were traumatized by the attacks themselves, respiratory and emotional problems continue to plague residents, and many others now must make detours on their way to work. Closed streets and barricaded buildings force people to go outside the district to do their shopping.
CB1 has taken a leading role in helping Lower Manhattan - and its residents - to heal. "We have coordinated outside counseling," says Wils. "We have met with different hospitals and organizations that have provided services; we've gotten the word out on our Web site and our mailings and our newsletter that we provide a lot of outreach."
Of course, 9/11 was - and continues to be - a defining issue for CB1, and the people the board serves. In addition to Post 9/11 revitalization efforts, the board is focusing its energies on several other important issues as well. Among those are a recent deal made with the city and the Battery Park City Authority to build permanent baseball fields and an indoor recreation center in Battery Park City, the first of its kind in the area. "We just created new zoning in the South Street Seaport area, which was a major battle we've been fighting for years, and we won," Wils adds. "Right now we've put resolutions in about the World Trade Center site about building around it."
The board has also helped rezone TriBeCa, the first rezoned neighborhood in Manhattan. And, Wils continues, CB1 has a good history on land marking areas, having just gotten an extension of the landmark of the TriBeCa West Historic District. Other projects include the construction of a middle and elementary school and getting the Millennium High School built. The latter, she explains, is the first high school in Lower Manhattan made specifically for the area's children.
"We're all parts of the community," Wils says. "We're a friend of the community, we are the community, and we take our job seriously as representing the community. We have a lot of eyes on us right now," she continues. "Everyone is focused in on us, and we really need to make sure that Lower Manhattan is rebuilt and that people can live and work here."
Recently, The Cooperator had the opportunity to sit down with Wils to talk about the board's activities and mission.
What are CB1's top goals for the next year?
Wils: "Community Board 1 will be focusing a substantial amount of time on issues and concerns and needs related to the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. Those two projects sort of go hand in hand, and there's a considerable amount of work being done by many agencies - including the community board - on those matters. To be a little more specific, some of our priorities for the coming year would be to see that our waterfronts are redeveloped.
"Work is ongoing on the West Side on the Hudson River Park - I'd like to see that continue and move forward. Another high priority of our community board is to restore the piers and the waterfront area on the East River south of the Brooklyn Bridge. And we have a plan for that that we've developed along with the Alliance for Downtown New York, which is the Business Improvement District, and we're trying to push that plan. We're certainly urging and going to urge further that the LMDC [Lower Manhattan Development Corporation] provide some funding for that undertaking.
"We also have a number of school projects on the front burner - we have the new Millennium High School scheduled to open this fall. We're plowing ahead on that project, trying to raise the final $3 or $4 million needed to get that project finished and opened at 75 Broad Street. It's supposed to serve a few hundred children in the 9th and 10th grades in the fall. One of the things that are happening downtown is the incredibly large number of new residential housing units, which are being created south of Canal Street. Our data indicates that"¦we're talking about 12,000 additional units of housing here in Community Board 1. So if you take roughly 2 people per unit, you're talking about 25,000 more people in our district at minimum in the next few years. Clearly, we have to work with the city and state on providing new schools, new parks, new libraries, cultural facilities, etc., for these people to come down here.
"Another priority in the short term is to manage that reconstruction work and make it manageable for the people living here and working down here, so that this area continues to be appealing and attractive and new businesses want to come down here, and new residents want to move into these buildings.
"We're also talking about some transportation issues that we think have to be addressed in the foreseeable future - we're talking about building a bus storage facility in lower Manhattan, and similarly, one of the major issues that came up in our survey was the need for better East/West connections. It's another issue we're going to work on. Several streets, for example, have been closed off due to security concerns. We want to see if we could try to get some of those streets reopened so that vehicles and pedestrians alike can get around the district better.
"Another major priority is additional retail services for Lower Manhattan. We're looking for the creation of much additional retail space.
"We are actively trying to get the 92nd Street Y to open in our district. We've been in talks with them for about a year. We've designated them probably about six months ago to open a Y. They're very interested in doing it - they're looking at sites, and they're doing feasibility studies, so that's something that we think will also be a big draw for people to want to live in the area, work in the area or visit the area, [and] we support creating a cultural and performing arts center in the neighborhood. That's something that's also probably going to be integrated into the World Trade Center redevelopment."
The Cooperator also interviewed CB1 District Manager Paul Goldstein about the workings of the board.
Are there any major controversies CB1 is currently addressing?
Goldstein: "Clearly, the design of the World Trade Center is a major controversy. There are differences of opinion - particularly between the residential community and business interests on the one side, and some of the victims' families on the other side. As far as how certain portions of the site will be developed, how [the memorial itself] will look, and how that will function in the community.
"We're interested in trying to make that space multidimensional and open, usable for people of Battery Park City and other neighborhoods to walk across and get access to the Transit Center and to the other facilities in Lower Manhattan. Connectivity is a big issue for us; the storage of buses is also a big issue on the site.
"Another issue is going to be how the funds in general are going to be spent. Although billions of dollars have been assigned to Lower Manhattan, much of that money has already been spoken for, and there are many, many desirable projects still awaiting funding decisions, and we are certainly going to weigh in on some of the priorities of the community board - some new schools, waterfront improvements, parks and things that we think really need to happen to make Lower Manhattan an appealing place, maybe some money for the performing arts, and for the 92nd Street Y and make sure those projects happen.
"Lower Manhattan - to rebuild it and to make it even better than what it was before - needs new facilities, new improvements to the infrastructure and to the entire Lower Manhattan, and not just the site itself. We just got through the Seaport rezoning - that was certainly a contentious issue.
"We have a contentious issue coming up on the West Side as far as the redevelopment of these Urban Renewal Sites, known as Sites 5B and 5C in TriBeCa, which the city is proposing very large-scale buildings, and since they sit right next to some of those fine elementary schools and next to one of our larger parks, called Washington Market Park, I think the community board is going to take the position that the buildings should not be quite as tall as what the city is proposing, which are two towers of 40 and 60 stories, so that's going to be a contentious issue.
How has the board handled and resolved the controversies it has come across? Goldstein: "Generally we try to work with the city or state agency or developer in charge and try to resolve our differences. And we've had a good track record with that, and one of the things that we've generally done as far as a lot of these large-scale development projects, which were perhaps not very well received by the community, is to try to put community improvements or amenities or services or facilities into the development to make them far more appealing. That's how we got PS 234, PS/IS 89, and the ball fields were also negotiated in a deal to create considerable new developments in Battery Park City, so I think our board has a pragmatic approach to these controversies.
"We know what we want and need for the people who live and work down here, and we honestly think that they're needed to keep this neighborhood and to make this neighborhood more attractive and appealing to new people. So we generally take the position that some of our needs and concerns need to be integrated into these projects if the city wants us to go along with and give our blessing to these projects. And usually they also involve some give and take on the size of the project as well - that's been our general modus operandi.
"Actually - interestingly - we're considering entering into an understanding with Pace University. The head of the political science department is interested in working with the community - a structured approach to differences and disagreements and to put together a formal mechanism to work through them, ensure input by people, and to figure out how to mediate and resolve differences as they arise on these major projects. So that's something that we're also going to possibly undertake with Pace University as a project to experiment with some of our upcoming controversies."What have been some of the board's most notable successes in recent years? Wils: "We're responsible for several successful schools, and this year we played a major role in getting the Battery Park City Authority to rebuild our ball fields, which accommodate our Little League and soccer leagues, into beautiful new fields that are going to be dedicated early next month.
"We've been very involved in a lot of open-space projects throughout the district. We've built up several parks in Battery Park City that we played a collaborative role in helping design and lay out. We recently achieved a down zoning in the South Street Seaport Historic District, which we think will preserve the character of the Seaport Historic District and make it a very appealing, attractive area, especially with the imminent departure of the Fulton Fish Market. As I said, we developed, along with the alliance, an East River Waterfront Plan that we are advocating to renovate the dilapidated piers along the entire East River. We've put the plan together, but we haven't funded it yet - we have partial victory at this point."
Mike McDonough is a freelance writer living on Long Island.