Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NYU Wagner: Community Engagement Survey: And the Results Are In...

By Samuel Myers

The NYU Wagner team presents Community Engagement Survey results.

CIVITAS capped off the 2011 Community Engagement Survey with an April forum at the Museum of the City of New York. We embarked on the project with New York University’s Robert Wagner School of Public Service to determine the concerns and needs of the Upper East Side and East Harlem communities. The project coincided with the CIVITAS thirtieth anniversary and was intended to get feedback on the greatest concerns of the communities we serve. As Executive Director Hunter Armstrong was quoted in a July issue of Our Town, “As an organization focusing on quality of life initiatives, we’re always reaching out to the community to gauge [its] needs and interests.”

Surveys were conducted on the internet, over the phone, and on the street at points across the East Side, including La Marqueta, Carl Schurz Park and the Institute for Puerto Rican and Hispanic Elderly. More than 400 neighbors responded, resulting in a representative sample for both neighborhoods. Befitting the similarities and differences in the Upper East Side and East Harlem, the results reflected the characteristics and concerns of their communities.

Hot-button topics like bicycle lanes, access to open space and the waterfront, and the Second Avenue Subway construction generated impassioned comments. Public health, environmental, and aesthetic issues such as tree-plantings, sidewalk obstruction, and garbage collection were also major topics of discussion. Community members demonstrated profound awareness of the issues facing their neighborhoods and expressed a clear desire for proactive, responsive policies that take their civic concerns into account.

To announce the results and get more feedback on the project, CIVITAS and the NYU Wagner team presented findings at the April forum. After the formal presentation, the forum participants, who included community leaders from the Upper East Side and East Harlem, discussed the survey comments in breakout groups.

Results of the survey and the breakout groups have resulted in different approaches to CIVITAS’ current projects, as well as influenced the direction of future initiatives. Since the survey results covered a broad range of community concerns, the final report on the survey has also been shared with other groups addressing quality of life on the Upper East Side and East Harlem. The survey illustrated the great interest in the community for a vision for the East River Esplanade. This feedback resulted directly in our ideas competition and public outreach project, Reimagining the Waterfront. Further, the comments have been directly incorporated into our advocacy related to land use, streetscapes, transportation and environmental quality.

Find more information about the survey and report at: www.civitasnyc.org/publicneedssurvey

Friday, November 11, 2011

Call for Designs: East River Waterfront Competition

By Sharon E. Pope

In September 2011, CIVITAS launched Reimagining the Waterfront, an ideas competition to tackle design problems on the East River Esplanade, 60th to 125th Streets. As we documented in our Spring 2011 newsletter, multiple sections of the Esplanade are in severe disrepair and even sinking into the East River. CIVITAS is proud to organize the competition with the growing number of public officials, neighbors and advocates who are calling for a better future for the waterfront park.

Reimagining the Waterfront is a first step toward developing a vision for improving the Esplanade. The CIVITAS team of volunteer architects and planners organizing the competition selected the boundaries East 60th to 125th Streets. This emphasizes the broad span of park between the Ed Koch Queensboro and Robert F. Kennedy Bridges and the role the Esplanade does, and could, play in many diverse communities.

Open to architects, urbanists, students and community stakeholders, the competition is intended to produce exceptional designs and ideas that profoundly enhance the public’s relationship with the park and river, and bridge the urban and the aquatic.

The waterfront is the transitional boundary between New York City’s hard and soft edges, between life on land and life on water. As such, urban waterfronts offer infinite opportunities to craft and maintain that relationship. In his book, Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan, writer Phillip Lopate stated “Any redesign on the waterfront must start from the premise of public access.” Competition design goals include public access, attention to active and passive uses, effective use of existing amenities, and neighborhood context.

The competition will be open to submissions through January 15, and winners will be determined in winter 2012 by a jury of renowned, highly-skilled designers, park advocates and representatives of the Upper East Side and East Harlem. Winning and creative submissions will be available on the competition website for the public to review and to envision an improved park in the future. Competition winners will receive monetary prizes and publicity for their top-notch designs.

It is important to distinguish between an ideas competition, such as Reimagining the Waterfront, and a design competition, which results in a commission for the winner and includes construction documents for the project. There is not yet money available for an ambitious redesign of the Esplanade, but CIVITAS’ goal for the ideas competition is to begin developing the necessary community and political support.

Fortunately, funding is already being allocated to make much-needed repairs to the Esplanade. Council Member Jessica Lappin has secured over $1 million to fix some of the worst sinkholes and to conduct an engineering study. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Council Member Lappin co-chair a task force of elected officials and government agencies to address Esplanade concerns.

CIVITAS is grateful for competition support, which includes grants from Council Member Lappin and the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation. We will publicize the competition and the winning designs during 2011 and 2012 through public events, including an October 26 lecture by Lopate.

The grassroots citizen efforts of the Friends of the East River Esplanade, Community Boards 8 and 11, and Transportation Alternatives have helped raise the waterfront discourse through which the CIVITAS competition can explore designs and ideas of not only what is possible for the Esplanade but what can be dreamed for it as well.

On a recent cloudy day, an intrepid jogger was asked what he would like to see for the East River Esplanade. He gazed forlornly up and down the waterfront. He decided instead to discuss what he generally liked about the Hudson River and Riverside Park greenways. He is envious of West Siders, but that may change over the coming years as the East River waterfront is improved. Through the combined efforts of the competition and other stakeholders, the spotlight of scrutiny will help to formulate a long-term plan for the park incorporating definitive, targeted waterfront designs and substantial improvements. These actions will produce a waterfront that engages everyone. Only then will the Esplanade along the Upper East Side and East Harlem become, observes Lopate, “the place that will finally tell us we have arrived.”

Learn more about the competition at www.reimaginethewaterfront-civitas.com

Friday, November 4, 2011

30 Years of Making a Difference: A History of CIVITAS

By Lucienne S. Bloch

CIVITAS board members and volunteers with Paul Newman during the 1985 filming of No More Tall Stories. Watch the video at www.civitasnyc.org/multimedia

CIVITAS is celebrating its 30th year of working to maintain and improve the livability and character of residential neighborhoods in a constantly changing city. CIVITAS began in 1981 as a small group of concerned citizens, led by August Heckscher, that mounted a vigorous protest against the massive apartment-building complex rising on Third Avenue and 92nd Street. CIVITAS has continued to proactively promote smart, neighborhood-sensitive development in scale with its immediate surroundings. Over the years, CIVITAS has kept a sharp eye on zoning and land use, proposed and in-progress development, affordable housing opportunities, urban planning and public policy, transportation and traffic, community facilities and institutions, infrastructure, environmental problems, pedestrian amenities, trees and recreational space, streetscapes, and historic preservation, all fundamental to the quality of life in big-city neighborhoods. CIVITAS repeatedly advocated for those essentials in its specific area of concern on Manhattan’s east side from 59th Street to 142nd Street, but its influence as an early and effective grassroots community-based organization stretched into the larger metropolis and to other cities.

A key to CIVITAS’ effectiveness has been its working Board of Directors, who have always contributed their time and professional expertise to help the organization achieve its varied initiatives. CIVITAS hired its first Executive Director in 2008, after the death of Trayco Belopopsky, the Office Administrator for over 20 years. In 1985, founding member Marcia Fowle organized a task force of volunteers to scrub the grimy walls of the 96th Street subway station, which encouraged the station manager to keep it clean. Making a difference with soap and water was comparatively simple. Getting a developer to remove the top 12 already-built and illegal floors of 108 East 96th Street was much more complex, and famously successful. Hearing Genie Rice, founding board president, describe the legal twists and turns of that battle is positively dizzying.

Like several of CIVITAS’ other successes, that daunting five-year effort originated in a planning study that CIVITAS commissioned, published and circulated. In 1984, a survey and mapping of the East 96th Street corridor was conducted by a professional planning consultant with the assistance of early CIVITAS Directors Jo Ahern Bressler. Jeanne McAnaney, Cora Shelton and Jim Tripp. During the survey, the illegal height of 108 East 96th Street, then under construction, was discovered and publicly identified by CIVITAS. In 1991, CIVITAS published The ABC of Zoning, a witty explanation of the city’s complex zoning terminology and regulations. The booklet was sent to hundreds of organizations and individuals as far afield as Tokyo, Moscow, and Kenya, and is now available online. Working closely with professional urban planers, local community boards, municipal officials, architects, student interns and its board members, CIVITAS published studies of street activity on Madison Avenue from 94th Street to 125th Street (1993), a study of opportunities and issues on East 125th Street (1995), a report on community facilities’ expansions (1997), an East Harlem rezoning plan (2000), and a detailed proposal to build a pedestrian bridge across the East River from 116th Street to Randall’s Island (2006). Many of CIVITAS’ recommendations led to important changes, such as the city’s rezoning in 2003 of a large area of East Harlem that is now protected from out-of-scale midblock development, and is a model for contextual zoning in other neighborhoods.

Win some, lose others, as too-visibly demonstrated by the huge Memorial Sloan-Kettering tower on East 68th Street and the still-rising Mount Sinai-sponsored midblock apartment tower on East 102nd Street. CIVITAS keeps fighting the good fight, and is currently engaged in getting another big area in East Harlem rezoned. It is also spearheading an effort by a coalition of neighborhood groups to enlarge and beautify the East River Esplanade between 60th and 125th Streets.

The past is prologue. A new generation of CIVITAS board members is focusing on what will be a transformed and denser east side when the long-awaited Second Avenue subway is completed. Phase 1 service is tentatively scheduled for 2016. That new mass transportation spine, along with the newly-operational Select Bus Service on First and Second Avenues, will spark residential, commercial and institutional growth on the entire east side of Manhattan. Zoning has to be rigorously examined, and altered, to provide light, air, and pedestrian-friendly streets. More public amenities, such as green space, schools, libraries, community facilities, and playgrounds will be needed, as well as better infrastructure. All of this presents an enormous challenge that can’t be tackled after the built fact. Now is the time to work on making a more populous east side livable, to ensure that its still-extant historic fabric is preserved, and to enhance its civic allure. CIVITAS is already on the job.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Phillip Lopate's Lecture for Reimagining the Waterfront

"We need a way to weave the waterfront into the normal street life in New York City."

In the kickoff lecture for the Reimagining the Waterfront competition, Phillip Lopate provided inspiring words and reflections from his book, Waterfront at the Park Avenue Armory on Wednesday.

NYC Council Member Jessica Lappin opened the evening with remarks about Esplanade repairs and an engineering study that is underway. The landmark Veterans Room, a collaboration of major 19th century designers, was the venue for the discussion.

If you were unable to attend the event, we hope you will stay tuned for upcoming public programming related to the Reimagining the Waterfront Design-Ideas Competition. Read on for more information.

More news about the October 26 lecture and competition is on DNAinfo.com.

About the Waterfront Competition

CIVITAS is calling architects, landscape architects, urban planners and professional designers to enter the Reimagining the Waterfront Ideas Competition for the East River Esplanade, East 60th to East 125th Street.

Visit the competition website www.reimaginethewaterfront-civitas.com for information about the competition including guidelines, prizes, and helpful resources. Registration began on September 15. Competition winners will be announced winter 2012.

The deadline for submissions is January 15. Please help spread the word. Thank you!

Upcoming Presentation

CIVITAS will present details about the competition to the Manhattan Community Board 8 Parks Committee on Thursday, November 3, at 6:30 pm at the New York Blood Center,
310 East 67th Street. The most up-to-date meeting details are here.

Community Events

TODAY: El Barrio/East Harlem Anti-Displacement Task Force, NYC Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and have organized the 1st Annual Haunted Housing March, organized by the El Barrio/East Harlem Anti-Displacement Task Force. The march will begin at 110th Street and Lexington Avenue at 3:30 pm. The purpose is to bring attention to the practice of "warehousing" vacant apartments in East Harlem. More information about the issue is in today's New York Times.

More information about the march is here.

Mom and Pop vs. Big Box: Retail in New York City
Wednesday, November 2 at 6:30 pm
The Museum of the City of New York

1220 Fifth Avenue

New York has long been a city of both large department stores and small, independently owned businesses. But in recent years the balance seems to be shifting with the rise in franchise chains and even big-box retailers traditionally associated with suburban shopping. Has New York reached a point where there are too many chains? Which neighborhoods are oversaturated and which are under-retailed? Do chain stores necessarily undercut independently owned businesses? In conjunction with the release of the Center for an Urban Future's "New York by the Numbers" retail report, Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director of the center, moderates a discussion with Gale Brewer, New York City Council Member, District 6; Marlene Cintron, President, Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation; Jeff Roseman, Executive Vice President, Newmark Knight Frank; Victor Vora, Owner, Concord Market; and Vicki Weiner, Director of Programs, Pratt Center for Community Development, exploring the changing nature of retail in the city.

Presented as part of the ongoing Urban Forum series New York Infrastructure

Co-sponsored by the Center for an Urban Future
$12 Non-Members
$8 Seniors and Students
$6 Museum Members / CIVITAS Friends discount
*A two dollar surcharge applies for unreserved, walk-in participants.

To receive the Members rate (50% discount) use code Retail112 when ordering: https://boxoffice.mcny.org/public/show.asp