Wednesday, July 13, 2005

East Harlem Says No to Wal-Mart, No to Uptown NY

We attended a scoping hearing last night in East Harlem that dealt with Uptown NY, a proposed mega-project for 125th, 126th and 127th streets in Harlem between 2nd and 3rd avenues. This immense mixed use development is the same one that has been rumored to contain a Wal-Mart or similar non-union big box store.

What was amazing about the hearing was the incredible community attendance. Well over 125 people packed into Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center and they unanimously railed against a project that they said had numerous flaws and, in general, was rapidly moving ahead without community input. Elected officials, affordable housing advocates, environmental justice activists, affected businessmen, local architects and planners as well as White, Black, Latino and Asian members of the community all told the developer that they could not support the development in its current form especially if the affected neighborhoods were not brought to the table. Specifically, they said that they were concerned about the affordability of the apartments, the scale of the development, the environmental impact and the presence of irresponsible employers like Wal-Mart.

The turnout was especially amazing considering that these scoping hearing are quite purposely poorly advertised. Generally, a 10 point font advertisement will appear in the NY Post, 5 people will show up and the developer wins because he does not have to deal with true community opposition and can simultaneously claim that the public had the chance to voice its opinions. The East Harlem scoping hearing was not well advertised either but fortunately a number of active community members spread the word.

This whole mobilization, though, is starkly different that what occurred with EDC’s Bronx Terminal Market scoping hearing. There, not including two representatives from the community boards, only 5 community members testified. No one was alerted about the meeting and to this day few community-based organizations or community residents know the details of the Gateway development. If these stakeholders had learned early on about the project’s specifics they probably wouldn’t have been very happy and this opposition might have jeopardized the political support for the project. However, now that the project has been certified Related and EDC believe that even if there is opposition it’s too late to change anything.