Volume 17, Number 40 | February 25 - March 3, 2005

Talking Point


Downtown community needs a voice on community money


By Alan J. Gerson


The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. will soon make its decision for the allocation of Community Development Block Grants. Of the $21 billion Federal allotment New York City received, the L.M.D.C. was given $3 billion in C.D.B.G. funds, of which approximately $820 million remains.


After more than a year of working closely with community boards, neighborhood and business groups, and local arts organizations, I released the Renaissance Plan for Community Development Block Grants last fall. The plan starts with recognition that rebuilding needs exceed available resources; it identifies critical programs and projects for which C.D.B.G. funding remains indispensable and champions those programs and projects which would bring matching funds.


I support the development plans of the ground zero site, complete with the fully proposed memorial as the first priority, but given the fact that four former presidents are heading up a fundraising effort, funding for the memorial should be found from sources other than C.D.B.G. I also support the train connection to the L.I.R.R. and Kennedy Airport, but not with C.D.B.G. money.


Without C.D.B.G. funds, all needed Project Liberty human services programs will expire.


However, experts all concur that three years later remains for many, a critical emotional and economic recovery time. Accordingly, the Renaissance Plan calls for L.M.D.C. to fulfill the promise made by Lou Tomson, L.M.D.C.’s first president, that L.M.D.C. would provide funds for human services.


The plan’s three largest proposals preserve affordable housing, open up the East and West Side waterfronts and fund arts and cultural projects throughout the district. If the L.M.D.C. fails to establish an affordable housing preservation trust fund, the recovery will itself make Lower Manhattan unaffordable to most residents and to emergency workers who lived through 9/11. If the L.M.D.C. fails to open the water’s edge and to support the arts, Lower Manhattan’s physical, cultural and economic recovery will forever be shortchanged.


The Renaissance Plan proposes parks, community facilities, small business marketing, an underground parking facility near ground zero and environmental protection for all neighborhoods within the L.M.D.C. catchment area, south of Houston St. These neighborhoods, residents and small businesses cannot wait for trickle-down benefits of big-ticket projects that are more than a decade away.


At our announcement of the Renaissance Plan last October, I was joined by leaders from all neighborhoods and all three community boards which comprise L.M.D.C.’s district. Seldom have we seen such solidarity from the diverse communities of Lower Manhattan. This solidarity should put the L.M.D.C. on notice that it will lose its credibility with the areas it is supposed to serve if it fails to heed the call to use these funds for community-based development


It was terribly distressing to read in this paper that a high-ranking L.M.D.C. official exclaimed that, “If anything, there has been an excess of democracy” in L.M.D.C.’s process. This reflects a lack of understanding of the difference between public forums or comment periods, of which the L.M.D.C. has had many, and a true public process, of which the L.M.D.C. has had virtually none.


I call on the L.M.D.C. to submit our proposal and all proposals to a full democratic process. L.M.D.C. board and staff members reflect the best of our city’s tradition of civic commitment. Madelyn Wils, chairperson of Community Board 1, and Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance, are effective Downtown advocates, but they comprise only two of twelve L.M.D.C. board members. All members are appointed by the governor or mayor, and thus represent only the executive branch, with no meaningful input from the legislative branch of government. It is the genius of American democracy that the allocation of taxpayer dollars goes to the core of the purpose for the check and balance between government’s two elected branches. In order to uphold our democratic system before the eyes of the world, as well as to achieve the best possible outcome, the L.M.D.C. should allocate the remaining C.D.B.G. funds based on community input through a consensus of the L.M.D.C. board and local elected officials.


It would be the height of political hypocrisy for the governor and the mayor to proclaim, as they correctly have, that the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan should be a testament to and a model of our American democratic system, while allowing their surrogates to use legal loopholes to avoid our normal democratic processes for allotting public dollars. It would be a moral travesty and a permanent stain on the L.M.D.C.’s stewardship of recovery, if the C.D.B.G. process did not allow the people of Lower Manhattan their democratic say in determining the destiny of their communities. As a commitment to the core values of our society, there should be no allocation without true representation.


Alan J. Gerson, City Councilmember for District 1, represents the neighborhoods near the World Trade Center site and is chairperson of the Council’s Select Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment.


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