The PATH to rebuilding / Progress Report
Residents need retail and culture on Downtowns front burner
By Julie Menin
We are at a critical juncture in the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. There is an unprecedented opportunity to bring much needed green space, transportation improvements, schools, affordable housing, culture and retail to the Lower Manhattan community but with these opportunities comes the attendant quality of life issues that construction brings. The challenge for the residents, workers and small businesses of Lower Manhattan is to ensure that proper mitigation measures are in place to protect the quality of life for the community. In addition, it is critical that the rebuilding moves apace and that there is proper planning in terms of the development of additional schools and services to support the influx of new residents Downtown.
With respect to the World Trade Center site, Community Board 1 has recently expressed its concerns regarding the pace of the redevelopment. Four years after the tragic events of September 11th, a revitalized Downtown has yet to become a reality. While important transportation projects such as the Calatrava PATH station at the W.T.C. and the Fulton Street Transit Center are moving ahead, in other areas much remains to be done.
For example, it is imperative that street-level retail along Church St. be built quickly in order to help the recovery of Lower Manhattan and activate the surrounding streets. The maximum amount of at-grade retail should be built and the type of retailers selected must meet the needs of Downtown residents and workers, and not solely tourists. We have seen all too well the problems of overly geared tourist retail at the South Street Seaport.
Furthermore, the commitment to culture both on the site and in the surrounding neighborhood is crucial. The WTC Memorial Foundation must raise the critically needed funds for the Gehry-designed performing arts center. C.B. 1 has recently expressed its strong concern over comments from the Memorial Foundation that money for the cultural facilities will only be raised after funds for the memorial are completed. Fundraising for the memorial and cultural facilities are not mutually exclusive and both should proceed in tandem.
With regard to the deconstruction of 130 Liberty St., it is extremely important to have in place a community notification plan which covers a large block radius and which quickly notifies residents and workers of an emergency. Two-way hand held radios disseminated to buildings in the area would be a good step.
Our treasured Lower Manhattan community, however, extends far beyond the W.T.C. site. In northern Tribeca, we have a historic opportunity to prevent the piecemeal granting of variances for residential development by developing new zoning which would allow a more contextual development of this area. In Battery Park City, we welcome the development of a new community center but remain concerned about the need for a new school on the West Side. Zoned middle school seats for our community board children remain a top priority. Overcrowding of our stellar Downtown schools (with for example P.S. 234 currently at 122% capacity) will certainly be ameliorated with the development of the K-8 Beekman St. school on the East Side, but with 7,000 new residential units to be developed over the next several years, proper planning for schools and other services is vitally important. The proposed residential development of the Greenwich Street South neighborhood should include a school to help address the enormous influx of new residents in the district as a whole.
On the East Side of our district, the planned East River waterfront development will help rectify the dearth of green space in that area and provide recreational uses for the community. A serious concern, however, remains with the proposed residential development of the Pearl St. playground as part of the Fulton Street revitalization plan and we have voiced our strong objection to this element of the plan which would obliterate our only playground on the East Side. In addition, the departure of the Fulton Fish Market from city-owned properties along the East River sets the stage for important changes to the Seaport area. The community board will work hard to ensure that General Growth Properties, the new Seaport Marketplace operator, does a better job in addressing the needs of local residents and that the city provides space for community recreational and cultural programs.
The Financial District continues to suffer from unsightly blockades in front of, for example, the American Stock Exchange and there is a need for a better balancing between aesthetic considerations and security in the oldest neighborhood in the city.
A district wide problem remains the plight of small businesses who continue to suffer. Incentive plans to aid the small business community are critically needed as is a new wayfinding system (one that has a marketing bent) which would help gear tourists and others to the small businesses.
As a residential boon continues in our community, heed must be paid to proper planning for affordable housing. Our community must not be unavailable for lower as well as middle-income individuals and affordable housing must be a critical priority. The proposed residential development of approximately 2.7 million square feet of residential development on the Greenwich Street South sites must have an affordable housing component.
Perhaps one of the most exciting possibilities for our community is the promise of recreational uses and open space at Governors Island. The proposals which will be considered by GIPEC should be judged based on the quality of the open spaces. A top priority of Community Board 1 is for the ballfields to be open for interim use. The development of Governors Island must be sensitive to the needs of residents and not just tourists, and concern exists over any purely tourist driven uses. The Battery Maritime Building, which acts as the portal to the Governors Island Ferry, should also be designated for a community use (either for recreation or cultural use.)
Lastly, in terms of the quality of life for all who live, work or own businesses Downtown, we must continue to take a cumulative effects approach to assessing quality of life impacts. With respect to air monitoring, noise and traffic, we must holistically look at the effects of all the reconstruction projects and ensure that proper mitigation and protection measures are in place through the duration of the redevelopment projects. For example, the air monitoring that is planned is expected to end in 2008. The Port Authority should consider installing air monitoring stations in the immediate vicinity of the WT.C. site at locations such Church and Cortlandt Sts. C.B. 1 will continue to take a proactive stand on these issues as the redevelopment of our community moves forward.
Julie Menin, a Financial District resident, is chairperson of Community Board 1.