The communities in my district continue to undergo substantial change. While change can be good, not all change is progress. Too often, change for the low-rise, historic neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan comes in the form of glassy new towers that do not respect our neighborhood character, but stand in stark contrast to it. It is important to recognize the inherent value in maintaining a connection to the history of our neighborhoods and the great danger that lies in the notion that our city is endlessly disposable.
Also troubling is the City’s terribly misguided practice of allowing unprecedented development in certain areas of the city without planning for the community’s basic needs. Where change occurs, planning is crucial. The City cannot continue to simply allow the development of large residential projects in neighborhoods with already overcrowded schools. Instead, the Department of City Planning must work with the Department of Education, Parks Department and other City agencies to determine not just the impacts of individual projects, but how municipal resources must be expanded to meet the cumulative burdens that result from multiple new residential projects within a single neighborhood.
As part of this planning, the City must ensure that adequate park space is available to meet the needs of current and future neighborhood residents. Unfortunately, the City continues to demonstrate its failure to view the provision of park space as a government responsibility. Instead of finding ways to expand park space to address the current park shortage and meet the needs of expanding residential populations, the City continues to view parks as revenue generators, privatizing portions of them to fund their own maintenance, thereby decreasing available park space. This is horribly misguided public policy.
The loss of our historic environment, its low-rise nature and strong community involvement threaten to unravel the fabric of the City we all cherish. I will work with all of you to preserve the sense of place that has drawn so many here to visit and to live.
TAKE BACK NEW YORK
Amidst the sometimes stifling asphalt and concrete surfaces of the urban landscape, parks offer New Yorkers encounters with natural ecologies while accommodating the diversity of the city’s cultural ecology. These spaces become New Yorkers’ communal backyards and offer a place to both passively relax and actively recreate, which is especially critical at a time when child obesity and diabetes are at record highs. As the City attempts to attract residential growth through a frenzy of construction and development projects downtown, children in Lower Manhattan are forced to negotiate a landscape riddled with tower cranes, scaffolding and construction debris as they make their way towards an already paltry amount of play space, much of which is already subject to frequent closures.
In the face of large-scale residential development, every effort must be made both to adequately maintain existing public spaces and to actively seek new spaces for active and passive recreation that will serve the ever growing residential population that these same projects are designed to attract. Instead, the City continues to encourage development projects that create thousands of additional housing units while simultaneously decreasing their support for existing public parks. The time has come for the City to commit to the following three principles in creating, maintaining and improving public park space:
1. Public parks are a government responsibility. I firmly believe that our City’s system of parks and open spaces, which were once one of the largest and most esteemed public works projects in the world, are government’s responsibility. Today, existing park space is being gradually eroded as a result of the City’s failure to provide sufficient municipal funding and its belief that privatizing some park space will make up for this shortfall. When we force parks to be self-sustaining revenue generators, the result is that portions of parkland effectively become privatized and are no longer freely available to the public.
While private donations to supplement public parks are important and should be encouraged, access to parks is increasingly threatened by the City’s reliance on public-private partnerships. This threat was highlighted in the widely publicized Randall’s Island sports league controversy, where the City struck a deal that will provide 20 private schools with near-exclusive primetime use of the majority of new and existing field space on the island. Across the river in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the City continues to accommodate over-development while shirking its responsibility to provide adequate park space, as planned luxury towers will fund the “public” park and occupy a portion of its land. Not surprisingly, the reliance on such partnerships exacerbates the economic disparities between communities that are able to self-fund what should be city supported public spaces and those that are left to depend on the less than 1 percent of the City’s budget dedicated to operating parks.
2. As the city grows, park space must be expanded, not contracted. Instead of increasing park space in line with the creation of new residential development projects, communities have been forced to desperately fight to keep existing park space. Since the City does not provide adequate funding to support its parks, it has generated revenue by turning parts of parks into commercial entities that they tout as community “amenities.” These are not amenities at all but instead take up precious space that should provide a place for children to play, for dogs to run or for adults to relax.
For example, plans to renovate the northern end of Union Square Park include the potential use of the park’s pavilion as a restaurant during the warmer months of the year, greatly restricting the public’s ability to enjoy their park free of charge. This plan subjugates the park’s role as a public gathering space and neighborhood respite to accommodating economic interests, which already engulf the area in commercial establishments. In neighborhoods like Union Square which are starved for green space but already overwhelmed by dining choices, it is terrible public policy to continue to transform municipal parkland into a commercial engine, placing a price tag on our community’s public space. There must be a clear distinction made between revenue generators that complement the public’s enjoyment of an otherwise cost-free day at the park, such as food carts or a bike rental stand, and those that threaten to consume our public land, such as destination restaurants that relegate vital community park space to an aesthetic backdrop for an expensive night out.
The Lower Manhattan community has also been forced to fight in order to take back portions of well-used City Hall Park that were reserved for the exclusive use of a charter school. After a long fight, the community convinced the City to open this portion of the park during certain times of the day. While I was happy to play a part in this victory, I remain disappointed that the public’s access to a portion of City Hall Park is restricted at all. This accommodation of private entities in parks citywide is often coupled with the outlandish practice of locking up park space for the creation of manicured “grass museums.” Regardless of whether this practice results from the City’s aesthetic sensibilities or its clear desire to abdicate maintenance responsibility for park space, it is an unacceptable practice that limits a community’s ability to both actively and passively recreate.
3. The city must listen to the community when renovating parks. The City has also repeatedly demonstrated its lack of concern for collaborative, community-based planning and tailoring parks to the needs and desires of its users. In planning for the redesign of Washington Square Park, the City has not shown an appropriate deference to the desires of the community. From adding fencing around the park, which is opposed by numerous community members and by The New York Times, to moving into alignment the beloved fountain which many people treasure for its misalignment, the City has shown its belief that its vision for our public parks trumps that of park users.
The City has also shown its apparent lack of consideration for the access needs of the disabled community by seemingly engaging in a planning process where accessibility for disabled New Yorkers is a mere afterthought in park design, rather than a mandatory planning priority. By creatively interpreting ADA guidelines for the renovation of buildings and facilities, the Parks Department has effectively omitted certain sections of parkland from renovations and from ADA compliance. This disregard was evidenced in Washington Square Park. With the unveiling of plans for the first phase of construction, it became apparent that numerous accessibility concerns had not been addressed, including pathway width, bathroom renovation, and bench and table design. My office joined in pressuring the Parks Department to immediately amend its plans in order to make all parts of Washington Square Park fully accessible to and usable by disabled New Yorkers and they have recently indicated their intention to do so. ADA compliance should be at the forefront of any park planning process and the community should not have to fight to ensure that our public space is truly public and freely enjoyable by all.
In contrast to the City’s disregard for the needs and desires of neighborhood residents and other park users, the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) recently demonstrated its understanding of its importance. On Pier 40 at Houston Street, HRPT is considering a proposal that would effectively turn what should be a neighborhood park pier into a large, glitzy, entertainment complex for visitors. This proposal, which includes a permanent theater for Cirque du Soliel, several restaurants and a large event space, clearly will provide little for the local community and, accordingly, the community has vehemently opposed it. As a vocal opponent of the proposal, I was thrilled that HRPT recently agreed to review an alternative development scenario to be proposed by the community, and I am hopeful that HRPT will give this proposal serious consideration. It is clear that any plans for Pier 40 must prize community needs and public access to the waterfront over revenue generating models that envision the pier purely as a tourist destination and ignore the unique urban fabric of the West Village and surrounding communities. This is especially true where most of the revenue generated in this public space will go into private pockets.
We are consistently informed that our city is on the cusp of a great revival as both a world-class tourist destination and a place that provides wonderful neighborhoods in which to live and work. But what great city responds to increasing population and a rising child health crisis by closing off parts of its already limited and improperly maintained public playspace or colonizing it with commercial enterprises? We must not allow economic revival to bury our city beneath a contiguous carpet of high-rise development where access to open space is granted by privilege or price tag. I will continue to advocate for a livable, breathable city where public funds are dedicated to supporting open space that can be enjoyed by all New Yorkers.
|WINNING RESULTS FOR THE COMMUNITY|
Throughout the year, I have worked hard to push a number of legislative and policy changes on a wide range of topics. I am proud to report the following accomplishments:
TAKE 8 ACTIONS IN 2008
1. BYOB (bring your own bag). Between purchases at grocery stores and pharmacies and picking up breakfast or lunch, individuals can easily use 15 plastic shopping bags per week. Not only are these approximately 780 plastic bags per year not recyclable, but they are produced using petroleum. Cut down your use of plastic bags by reusing them or, even better, use cloth bags- I carry one in my briefcase with me just in case I make a last-minute stop at the store.
2. Make your trash someone else’s treasure. Looking to get rid of old towels, sheets or blankets? Don’t throw them away, even if they are ripped or stained. Give new life to your old linens- animal shelters are often in need of these supplies for animal bedding.
3. Decrease your power. Though your appliances may not be turned on, your electric meter is still running. In fact, many electronics use almost as much energy when they are off as when they are on and, in the average home, 75 percent of the electricity used to power electronics is used when the product is turned off. Decrease your electricity use and your bills by putting electronics on a power strip that can easily be turned off with the flip of one switch.
4. Bright idea. Did you know that 95 percent of the energy used by an incandescent bulb goes to heating it, which wastes substantial energy and adds unwelcome heat to rooms during warmer months? Changing just one 75-watt bulb to a compact fluorescent light cuts 1,300 pounds of global warming pollution, lasts up to 15 times longer and saves money.
5. Opt out. Each year, more than 19 billion paper catalogs are produced and discarded, consuming 8 million tons of trees. Most disturbing is that many of these catalogs are sent to our homes unsolicited and are often simply discarded. Stop the flow of catalogs you receive by collecting all of the catalogs you receive during the month then taking 20 minutes at the end of the month to call each company and request removal from their list. Alternatively, there is a free online service located at www.catalogchoice.org that will contact the companies you select and cancel these catalogs for you.
6. Drive wisely. While the best way to reduce heat-trapping vehicle emission that lead to global warming is to avoid driving, there are actions that drivers can take to minimize their emissions. For example, avoid rapid acceleration and braking, which can decrease gas mileage by as much as 33 percent on highways, and check the air pressure in your tires, since fuel economy is decreased by one percent for each pound of pressure below recommended levels. If you are in the market for a new car, choose wisely. Sport utility vehicles emit as much as 40 percent more emissions than smaller cars and some manufacturers and models of cars are more efficient than others. Before you buy, you can look up and compare cars on the federal government Web site www.fueleconomy.gov.
7. Chill out. Forty-five percent of the average New Yorker’s utility bill goes toward heating and cooling. Lowering your air conditioner or heater by just a few degrees can make a huge difference. For example, air conditioning set at 72 degrees costs 39 percent more than air conditioning set at 78 degrees.
8. Be a Star. Appliances account for over 20 percent of household energy usage. Products that meet federal Energy Star standards can help you decrease your energy consumption by 30 percent and enjoy other benefits. For example, an Energy Star washer uses half the energy and half the water as standard models, saving money and approximately 7,000 gallons of water each year per household.
HEAR THIS: NYC’S NEW NOISE CODE
New York City’s noise code was recently updated for the first time in 30 years. The revamped regulations, which went into effect July 1, 2007, have changed the noise laws for nightclubs, construction sites, garbage trucks, car alarms, barking dogs, and even the ubiquitous Mister Softee ice cream trucks. Last year, 41,856 noise complaints were placed to 311, more calls than any other problem in New York City.
Although changes to the noise code were not as strong as many had hoped, I suggest that constituents who have had unresolved noise issues in the past take advantage of the changes in the noise code by making another noise complaint to through the City’s 311 hotline. Perhaps a noise issue which was not deemed problematic under the old noise code will now register under the new one. In addition, when you make a noise complaint, be as specific as possible, including the typical time of the disturbance. This information will increase the likelihood that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the agency responsible for enforcing the noise code, will send an inspector at a time when the noise is occurring.
The changes to the noise code addressed four areas:
The new code requires that construction sites produce “noise mitigation plans” and post them at their job sites to inform the public of how they intend to minimize sound. In addition noise jackets are now required for jackhammers at all construction sites.
Commercial music sources
For the first time, DEP inspectors will utilize a device that measures bass-level as well as vibrational sound, helping to curb this intrusive, yet difficult to capture, noise.
Air conditioning units
Air conditioning units on buildings, particularly clusters of them, are a growing source of noise complaints. Changes have been made to better address situations in which the combined sound of multiple air conditioning units causes excessive noise.
Although decibel meters are useful at obtaining acoustic measurements, police officers, who are often responsible for enforcing the noise code, do not always have them available or have not received the training necessary to operate them. The new code adopts a standard of ‘plainly audible’ at specified distances. Police officers and noise inspectors will be allowed to issue summonses for a multitude of violations using a common-sense standard and without a noise meter. This aspect of the law will help ensure that parked Mister Softee trucks will not disturb people with their loud jingle. Hopefully this change will not eliminate children lining up for a summer treat, but will ease the headaches of the adults around them.