How to spend the rest of the 9/11 funds
By Julie Menin
Eight and a half years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, there were fears that residents and workers would flee Lower Manhattan and the population would plummet. The federal government provided subsidies to encourage people to remain here, and local leaders and activists rallied to protect the area’s quality of life and identify resources needed in order for the area to once again thrive for residents and workers.
Today, Lower Manhattan is the fastest growing area in New York City. According to a study conducted by Community Board 1 in 2008, the population of the Financial District will increase by 240% by 2013, when the population of Community Board 1 will reach 63,500. These trends have continued despite the country’s deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
We are now a victim of our own success, as this surging population has put crushing pressure on our schools, parks, playgrounds and other infrastructure. Community Board 1 has advocated tirelessly for the facilities, resources, and services needed to match the seismic residential growth — from schools and senior centers to community centers and ballfields. We identified the site for P.S. 276, the new school in Battery Park City slated to open in 2010, and we negotiated for the millions of dollars in funding needed to open a Downtown Community Center and a New York Public Library branch in Battery Park City. As the community board chairperson and a member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. board, I advocated for $4.5 million to be allocated to the public schools Downtown and for $2 million to go to a new ballfield in the last round of L.M.D.C. community funding. Both projects are now underway.
Even with the community board’s efforts, the development of community facilities and resources has not kept pace with the explosive residential growth Downtown. The severity of the city budget crisis has only exacerbated the gap between population and facility growth.
We therefore took a keen interest in the presentation made at our March W.T.C. Redevelopment Committee meeting by David Emil, the president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, in which, at C.B. 1’s request, he discussed the funds that L.M.D.C. has not yet formally allocated to a specific project. Emil estimated that the L.M.D.C. has $295 million in unallocated funds, and that this total could increase due to additional funds left over from other projects. C.B. 1 strongly believes that these funds should be applied to meet local needs.
The needs are abundant. Recently, the Department of Youth and Community Development announced that rather than spread its cuts across programs citywide it will eliminate 33 programs, including the highly regarded after-school program at I.S. 89 run by Manhattan Youth. With the elimination of this program, the D.Y.C.D. will cease to deliver even a penny of its $300 million budget to Lower Manhattan. Not only do these cuts come as Lower Manhattan’s need for after-school programs reaches new levels, but they also eliminate a program that has been serving many lower income children from nearby districts including Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
We must address overcrowding in our schools. Even with two new schools opening in our district, projections point to a dire shortage of school seats for our community’s children. We were therefore disturbed to learn recently that the Department of Education intends to relocate students from out of district to 100,000 square feet of space that it has leased on the first and second floors of the old Standard Oil tower at 26 Broadway near Bowling Green.
We also desperately need other community facilities: after-school programs for youth, more libraries and community centers, and resources for community arts and computer programs. While Manhattan Youth has a stellar reputation for its programs and a Battery Park City Community Center is now under construction, the needs of the east side of the district have been underserved for many years.
The populations of the Financial District and Seaport neighborhoods have experienced the greatest population growth in the district, yet these areas still have no library or community center. C.B. 1 has worked extensively with a consultant hired by General Growth Properties, which owns the South Street Seaport, to assess needs and develop plans for a community center, but these promising plans are currently suspended due to the slowdown in the economy. We need to make these plans a reality.
Another need is to once and for all build the Performing Arts Center at the W.T.C. site. To have this hole in the heart of our community with so little progress on any piece except the memorial is truly unacceptable. Funds need to be allocated to keep the promise of a world class Performing Arts Center that will revitalize our community, help small businesses with additional foot traffic, and serve as an inspiration for our children and for generations to come.
Finally, there is a great need for affordable housing in our district and for services for seniors. C.B. 1 is doing everything possible to inform people about resources currently available. Last year we made available a guide to affordable housing in C.B. 1, which lists rent-regulated units and explains the rules governing rent increases for them, and we are now working on a guide to resources for seniors in the district. But we need to keep developing more affordable housing and facilities to keep pace with the increasing need.
One of my highest priorities has always been to secure the facilities and services needed by the residents of our district as well as those who work and visit here. While much progress has been made, we must not rest until additional sites are identified and funding secured to meet the needs of our growing population. These unallocated L.M.D.C. funds are urgently needed for our neighborhood’s critical needs.
Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1 , is also on the boards of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.