Saturday, February 11, 2006

Power to the People

It's been a long time since activists were "manning the barricades" as they did in the 1960's. Passivity and comfort have taken a toll on most of us but a few die-hards in our midst keep the faith. Of course, the new breed is not trying to take over Main Building at NYU for a sit-in, or blocking traffic at University Place in order to get support for the anti-war effort.

But, forty years later -- there are some similarities. Certainly, the Iraq war is starting to destroy our economy while Bush steals our civil liberties and we slide into a Primordial soup. Just wait until they reactivate the draft.

But one of the latest flaps that gets activist juices flowing has been percolating Downtown over a suggestion by Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), that New York University should consider working with the City to find alternative other space for its expanding campus. In other words, the fact that NYU has been slowly gobbling up the Village and parts of NoHo, is starting to get on some people's nerves. One building after another is erected, transformed into classrooms or dormitories, or demolished to satisfy is limitless craving for space -- in one location. During the sixties NYU had a campus in the Bronx but that was closed and everything was consolidated down at Washington Square.

Absolutely no one is suggesting that NYU leave town. No one is suggesting that NYU is not a desirable neighbor. What many ARE suggesting, is that Washington Square, Greenwich Village and NoHo also exists for residents whose lives are feeling increasingly encroached upon. They want to see a new dialog begin with the administrations -- of NYU and the City -- for the purposes of exploring a way to protect the essence of the Village and NoHo from becoming ONLY NYU. That, no one should want.

Berman asked the Community Board #2 Zoning Committee, whose Chairman is David Reck, to have a public hearing on the issue and to pass a resolution asking NYU and the City administration to explore the possibility of locating other areas that could help with the expanding University's needs. This would merely be an expression of the community's wishes, with no force of law.

Roughly 30 members of the Village, SoHo and NoHo attended the meeting and GVSHP's Andrew Berman made a compelling presentation. A member of the NYU administration was also present, although there was not what she called a team of members to answer everyone's questions.

What followed this presentation, however, was not anticipated. Normally, after a Public Hearing, a resolution is passed either in support of or against the proposal in front of the committee. In this instance, the Board's Chair, Maria Derr, would not permit a resolution to be voted upon. The residents were not happy about this and were angry at the fact that further delays were to be the culmination of their efforts in bringing people out for this meeting. Although there were passionate speeches, including one by Zella Jones of the NoHo Neighborhood Association, who told the committee "I beg you to pass a resolution tonight" and to move this issue forward --these entreaties were rejected.

According to Derr, the issue will now go to a joint Zoning and Institutions Committee meeting -- with Bob Rinaolo as the Chairman of Institutions. Those of you who have been following the machinations on Community Board #2 know that as de facto Board Chair, this delay and insistence upon yet another meeting -- has the silver lining for Rinaolo and the power elite on the Board -- of giving them center stage. That's how power plays out on Community Boards. And, that is the only plausible reason for a delay. While the ostensible explanation for a delay is to give a "full hearing" on the matter --it is hollow. Nothing need stop two committees from taking a position on this issue -- to be molded into a resolution at the Full Board. It's not that difficult an issue to either embrace or reject. But there is a reason for this.
Since Community Boards are advisory in nature, influence flows from the ability to hold center stage, with the Klieg lights focused on the star. And, perks flow to that person, in unseen ways. There are business relationships, professional organizations and personal favors to consider. Essentially, that is what currently drives some people to join Community Boards. Often, unfortunately, it is not to serve the community.

The residents, in this "tempest in a teapot" (the resolution being sought by GVSHP is no more than a suggestion that the City and NYU work together on this)-- will just have to take a back seat to the all important "appearances" of power. Residents were not happy at having to wait still longer in line for the show to begin, however, and this is no way to treat voters. Representatives of all of the electeds were in attendance and clearly heard the drum rolls.

If this kind of duplicitous behavior gets you riled up, don't forget to attend the hearing at Luester Hall at the Public Theater on March 2nd. This Public meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be a joint convocation of NoHo,SoHo and East Village/Lower East Side residents, organizations and elected officials. The subjects are land use, SLA reform and traffic issues. The Public Theater is located at 425 Lafayette Street, between 4th Street and Astor Place. Make sure you get there and let your neighbors know that this is where we make politicians aware that we want action. We want reform and local authority to police illegal bars and lounges, we want the ability to cross the street with or without a baby carriage and not be targeted by drivers, and we want responsible planning for current and future land development in our communities.

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