Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Reimagining the Waterfront: An Improved East River Esplanade

Join CIVITAS for an in-depth, illustrated discussion in the historic library of the former Fabbri Mansion, now House of the Redeemer.

Since 2011, CIVITAS has organized an international ideas competition and museum exhibition as well as design workshops, lectures, and community service projects focused on visions for an improved East River Esplanade from 60th-125th Street. CIVITAS feels strongly that the East River waterfront could serve a major recreational and environmental need for East Harlem, the Upper East Side and, indeed, this whole city. In order to understand the potential of the East River Esplanade, a comparison of this unique land resource with successfully realized linear park precedents leads to a more thorough understanding of the potential for a redeveloped Esplanade. In order to maximize this potential, urban planners, politicians and community constituents must also understand both the feasibility and challenges faced when solving this design problem. It is within this context that the needs of the community can be analyzed and addressed.

Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 pm
House of the Redeemer
7 East 95th Street (between Fifth and Madison Avenues)
A reception and refreshments will follow the lecture.
Suggested donation: $10
Registration is requested. 

RSVP to CIVITAS at (212) 996-0745 or info@civitasnyc.org.
A NYC landmark, House of the Redeemer was designed by acclaimed architect Grosvenor Atterbury and constructed for the Fabbri family between 1914-1916. Read more about House of the Redeemer historic landmark.

Monday, March 10, 2014

CIVITAS in Action

Recycling Program Launches at P.S. 007 
October 29th marked launch day for a major CIVITAS schools recycling initiative at P.S. 007 and Global Tech in East Harlem. As part of its three-pronged recycling initiative, CIVITAS committed to a pilot program in East Harlem through collaboration with another non-profit, Cafeteria Culture (CafCu). This collaboration immersed board members in the CafCu methodology and helped CIVITAS learn the how and why of cafeteria recycling. Board members were directly involved in both the classroom, helping to teach a recycling curriculum, and in the cafeteria, implementing the sorting for recycling methodology alongside students. CIVITAS is using this experience to determine how to push forward in its mission to increase recycling rates in schools in East Harlem. In the process, CIVITAS accumulated the necessary information to write its own guidebook for future school recycling initiatives, and hopes to use this knowledge to move forward in a role that motivates student and administrator involvement in the service of increasing recycling and becoming better wardens of the environment. 

Park Avenue Historic District Extension 
CIVITAS supports the nomination of Park Avenue between 79th and 96th Street to be designated a New York City historic district. Except for a few blocks of Park Avenue located in the Carnegie Hill Historic District, most of this corridor between 79th and 96th Street does not fall within a historic district. CIVITAS supports the work of numerous community groups who have worked for years to achieve landmark protection for the historic Park Avenue corridor. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has calendared a hearing for February 11, 2014. 

Park Avenue Christian Church 
The LPC calendaring of a hearing for the Park Avenue Historic District suspends any changes to buildings in the proposed district that includes the Park Avenue Christian Church at 1010 Park Avenue, which had been under threat of demolition. The Extell Corporation has filed plans for a 210-foot tower to occupy the portion of the lot where the parish house is currently located and to cantilever over the church building. CIVITAS has written a letter in support of the individual landmark designation of the Park Avenue Christian Church complex, which includes the church and parish house because of its cultural and historical significance. 

Update: East River Esplanade Initiative 
CIVITAS is moving forward to hire a planning and outreach consultant for the East River Esplanade project. The study area for the project is the East River Esplanade between 60th and 125th Streets and the objective is to help CIVITAS bring Upper East Side and East Harlem residents together to plan for improvements of the Esplanade park. We are grateful to the New York Community Trust and other funders for supporting this project. 

This fall, CIVITAS’s Reimagining the Waterfront exhibition was on display at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House. Workshops were held with children from the afterschool program and adults from the Senior Center. The workshops taught participants about community based planning and CIVITAS’s Esplanade improvement initiative. 
Students at the Allen-Stevenson School learn about the importance of city planning with CIVITAS’s Environmental Associate Maura Smotrich. 

Additionally, CIVITAS’s Environmental Associate, Maura Smotrich, gave a presentation to second graders at The Allen-Stevenson School on the process of urban planning and led a discussion about the importance of understanding what is needed when building a city. The students are working on a unit in their art class that teaches them to build their own city. CIVITAS’s Reimagining the Waterfront exhibit is on display for public viewing at City Swiggers located at 320 East 86th Street. 

The Dalton School Expansion 
In January, the Board of Standards and Appeal (BSA) approved The Dalton School’s variance request to build a two-story addition atop its main building at 108-114 East 89th Street. CIVITAS had written a letter in opposition to the request for variance to the BSA. The current proposal, the third variance requested by The Dalton School, seeks to further amend the variance by increasing the height from 144 feet to 170 feet. This application proposes a floor area expansion of about 12,200 gross square feet, representing a floor area ratio (FAR) of 9.67, though the area’s R8B zoning allows only a 5.1 FAR for community facilities. 

City Council Votes to Ban Styrofoam 
The New York City Council unanimously voted to ban toxic and polluting styrene foam! This landmark decision is a victory for our environment, health and future. CIVITAS weighed in on the debate with other non-profits pushing for the ban by testifying at the City Council hearing about the environmental dangers of polystyrene products. The collaborative effort yielded a far-reaching environmental win. 

CIVITAS President Felipe Ventegeat and Vice President Gorman Reilly stand with Public Advocate Letitia James in support of the City Council’s vote to ban styrofoam. 

In The Community: NYCHA Land Lease 
In August, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) issued a request for expression of interest (R.F.E.I) for 99-year land leases to build new housing within existing housing sites to potential developers interested in the sites. NYCHA infill plans are for eight of its housing sites including two in Community District 11, Washington and Carver Houses. The Housing Authority believes this controversial plan is the best way to provide necessary funding for tens of millions of dollars’ worth of building repairs across the city. Proposals were due in November and developers have yet to be selected. It is still unclear whether Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been highly critical of the initiative, but has not voiced total opposition to a land use program, will take action to stop or modify the plan. 

To read the complete Winter 2014 issue of CIVITAS News, visit http://civitasnyc.org/civitas-newsletters/

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Talking Past and Future for East Harlem

Willa Hutner

 P.S. 109 was discussed at the East Harlem Revitalization and Rezoning panel organized by CIVITAS and the National Academy in December. Artspace and El Barrio’s Operation Fightback are converting the former school at 215 East 99th Street into affordable housing for artists. Photo by El Barrio’s Artspace.on Fightback are converting the former school at 215 East 99th Street into affordable housing for artists. Photo by El Barrio’s Artspace.

The second of a three-part series of lectures  co-organized by CIVITAS and the National Academy took place on December 4th. The series was designed to explore ways in which architects, planners, activists, scientists, and city agencies can work together to improve urban environments. The first discussion, described in CIVITAS’s winter newsletter, focused on the East River Esplanade. This one dealt with urban revitalization and East Harlem rezoning. 

Projects now under way in East Harlem show successful revitalization efforts and point the way forward. The question is whether East Harlem’s problems are so different from those in other neighborhoods that solutions that work there would not be transferable elsewhere. By the end of the discussion it was clear that projects now transforming the face of East Harlem are not only inspiring; they are also applicable elsewhere.

Moderator Karrie Jacobs, Contributing Editor of Metropolis and founding Editor-in- Chief of Dwell, opened the discussion with slides of atypical beauty in American cities. Beauty in an urban environment can include elements beyond our usual vocabulary. In her classes at the School of Visual Arts, she uses these examples to bring her students to an understanding of what is valuable in zoning.

The first panelist, architect Peter Gluck, made a distinction between zoning’s effect on the future and the changes now occurring in East Harlem. The High Line and the surrounding gentrification it has spawned are familiar. So are other dramatic changes to the city skyline.  Less well known are the moderate-cost buildings that not-for-profit institutions have managed to get built, vastly improving their ability to carry out their mission. These institutions are the anchors of any community. The first step in any urban revitalization is to become aware of the city already being built “under the radar”.

Second panelist Gus Rosado is Executive Director of El Barrios’s Operation Fightback, the first organization to bring small homes to first-time buyers in East Harlem. Public School (P.S.) 109, a school that was abandoned for twelve years, is now being renovated into ninety affordable live-and-work space for artists, as well as space available to community groups. 

Third panelist Matthew Washington, Chairman of Community Board 11 and CIVITAS Advisory Board member, argued that zoning is a powerful tool to create positive change in East Harlem where a great number of residents are facing difficult circumstances. The area has the city’s highest density of public housing. The average income is $32,000; the poverty rate exceeds 40%. Two thirds are either overweight or obese. Planners should approach rezoning here differently. They should begin by not considering building height or mass, or preservation vs. redevelopment, or gentrification, though rising land prices make that likely. Any rezoning scheme must support the needs of the community, and should aim toward promoting education, health, employment, affordable housing, and open space. It should find a way to take advantage of the Metro-North viaduct, and to bring industrial zones back to life. Zoning is a tool, and it should be used for a purpose. 

From left, CIVITAS Chairman Genie Rice with panelist Peter Gluck, Matthew Washington, Karrie Jacobs, Gus Rosado, and CIVIVAS Executive Director Lauren O'Toole

CIVITAS and Community Board 11 have jointly developed zoning recommendations to encourage the following goals in the community: affordable housing opportunities, economic development and job creation, new buildings that are contextual in scale with their surroundings and revitalization of Park Avenue. The rezoning study area includes Madison, Park and Lexington Avenues between 115th and 132nd Streets. The area has not been rezoned in its entirety in over 50 years. The next step for the rezoning recommendations is adoption by the NYC Department of City Planning. 

To read the complete Winter 2014 issue of CIVITAS News, visit http://civitasnyc.org/civitas-newsletters/