Saturday, March 01, 2008

Yonkers Public Meeting

These photos from the Alexander Street Plan public meeting on Valentine's Day in Yonkers have been sitting in drafts for a while - I'm just going to do some shorter descriptions than I'd originally planned - like to have it up before they're laying foundations for those stupid 20-story towers (hope that's never).

The meeting was held in the council chamber in the Yonkers City Hall, which is a rather beautiful building in a spectacular location high on the hill beside the Hudson.

Here's one of my friends from the Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club speaking on behalf of the club. Others did as well, and the best news of the evening came from just talking to some of them beforehand - it does sound as though the city of Yonkers does intend to let them stay where they are. There are still doubters as well, and these things are always subject to strange vagaries of process - but mostly, the mood is optimistic. Plus they are really happy about their new storage and boatbuilding space at the Kennedy Marina. Maybe for once the two steps forward won't be followed by the normal one step back.

It was interesting attending a public comment meeting in a smaller city. NYC public meetings tend to be a little mindblowing in the sheer numbers of people & floods of rhetoric. There's never enough time for everyone to say their piece, and you walk out with this odd unsatisfying feeling of not knowing whether all of that made a bit of difference, or whether all the decisions have already been made behind the scenes & the show in the giant auditorium was just for show.

In Yonkers, the mayor and one of the city council were there, and listened to around somewhere around 30 5-minute talks - everyone who signed up had their chance to speak.

I was quite surprised by the first speaker, who basically spent her five minutes ranting about the evil that is Scenic Hudson. Very surprising to hear this organization, which I've always heard good things about, be the target of such rancor. At first she couldn't even bring herself to say their name - Scenic Hudson as the Voldemort of environmental campaigns?

So that was a little surprising. The next speaker was also pro-towers, and at that point I started keeping a loose tally of the sides the speakers were taking.

In one way, they were all on the SAME side - not one single person was in favor of leaving the area the way it is. Every single person was in favor of SOME development. Nobody wants it to stay brownfields.

What was clear was the split between people who thought tall towers were the best use, and people who wanted to see lower-rise buildings & parks, making the most of that magnificent scenery that I think is truly one of Yonkers' finest resources.

A couple of the speakers, in fact, drew our attention to the fact that the people who built Yonkers' grand City Hall clearly recognized that as well - the mute but eloquent proof offered was the paintings with which the chamber is decorated, many of which feature the Hudson and the Palisades either as backdrops to historical or allegorical scenes -

or as a subject unto itself (sorry not so great, the paintings themselves were a bit dark, but in a city that's scraping for money for schools, restoring the paintings in the city hall probably comes low on the priority list)

Here's my own less artistic rendition ;D - actually a cleaned-up version of a doodle that turned up next to my notes. As I was seeing it, and as some of the speakers were too, the city of Yonkers is built on a slope beside the Hudson. The effect is like the seating in an auditorium, with the river being the focus of the view. You could call this a million-dollar view & not be exaggerating - the reason the New York-New Jersey Palisades Interstate Park exists today is because the Rockefeller family decided that such magnificence was worth preserving (basic in-nutshell version).

Now let's say you're that town with the million-dollar view. All very nice, but scenery won't buy you a Starbuck's. How to cash in on the view? Well, the developers are saying "So you wanna get some liquid assets out of that liquid asset? Easy! We just put up a big ol' stack of box seats right here in the front row, it'll be great!"

Well...yes. But what about the people who are now stuck with seats behind the stacked-up box seats? Let's see 'em try that at Giants Stadium & see what the rest of the fans do...

Anyways. That's the conundrum with which Yonkers finds itself faced - how to get the best value out of the currently wasted & dingy waterfront. A fair number of the residents seem convinced that the tall towers are the way to go.

But many of the speakers mentioned towns who've turned their waterfronts into a real draw & feature, in a gentler way. A development called Echo Bay, in New Rochelle, was mentioned - 5 story buildings, planned with community involvement every step of the way; Charleston, SC; Provincetown; Key West; Sacramento - there was a good long list of examples that people felt that could be used as models for developments that would draw more people to Yonkers without completely disregarding the people who've been there all along.

A couple more speaker photos - here is Ivy Reese, of "They-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named" (Scenic Hudson! Scenic Hudson! Scenic Hudson!)

And this guy was one of my favorites. I didn't even catch his name but he was a great reminder to me about that not-judging-book-by-cover thing - he goes walking up in his suit & tie. And me, I see that suit & I'm already jotting him down in my pro-tall-towers column. And then he started to speak of the beauty of the river and the cliffs, and the value of those - and his last couple of minutes were spent quoting Chief Sealth.

The final tally (not necessarily 100% accurate, I forgot to tally a couple)?

8 in favor of tall towers.
17 opposed to tall towers.
3 in favor of development & money for schools but not specifically for or against tall towers.

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