Saturday, April 10, 2010

Meeting Notes from Thursday -

Made it to the big Thursday meeting! Late as usual - didn't get out of work until 6 and then I got a little off-course looking for the high school (if you start walking north on Pearl Street just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, and you keep walking straight up what appears to be the same street, it turns into a different street - Pearl Street hangs a pretty big turn to the west & I missed that). I missed the introduction, but I think it was mostly a review of Vision 2020. It was more the 3-minute testimonies I was interested in, though, and I heard a LOT of those.

I think it was a good turnout. Lots of familiar faces, plus a lot that I'd never seen before, and a huge list of speakers - I left a little before 10, I think it was, and it was still going on. I believe that there were speakers from every borough, and the interests represented ran the gamut from Ed Kelly, Executive Director of the NYNJ Maritime Association (he of the tired old horse, such a good speaker otherwise, sigh) to people who would just like to take a nice walk beside the river without risking sprained ankles (doesn't seem like such a crazy thing to ask, does it?).

It was a long & diverse meeting & if you'll forgive me for a longwinded review, I think I'm just going to retype my notes - I was jotting down everything that caught my attention. There were definite recurring themes & if I have another quiet evening soon, I may come back & try to summarize in another post - but this is how I'm going to start.

The first 3 speakers were unfortunately unintelligible due to a bad mic in a bad place. That was doubly unfortunate to me because 2 of them were friends whose testimony I really would've liked to hear - John McGarvey, representing the Long Island City Community Boathouse (I'm sorry, I'm feeling too lazy to link, but LICB & PortSide are both on my blogroll), and Carolina Salguero of PortSideNY. Couldn't make out a blessed word of John's. It was like the teacher on the Charlie Brown specials. Carolina suffered a similar fate although I did make out one very nice point:

- Waterfront design shouldn't just involve landscape architects - you need "waterscape" specialists too.

I liked that...oh, and I think I will try to work this into themes, because that was a good one that came up a couple more times. The president of the North River Historic Ships Society (note to self: get them on the blogroll!!!) said that there just aren't enough piers, and that when maritime elements are chosen for use, they should be real, not just decorative (I think she was the one who mentioned 9/11 emergency work vessels tying off to trees & their crews scrambling over fences because the designers of the waterfront in Battery Park City never imagined that there might be a need to bring in boats...); John Doswell from the Working Harbor Committee took this all one step further, he's sending in a document called "How Piers Should Be Built". At least 2 other people referred to the dearth of facilities in Manhattan as making it difficult enough to run a large maritime event in NY that we get bypassed (a tall ship event that skipped us & went to Boston last year was given as a specific example).

Ed Kirkland from the Chelsea community board touched on the same topic in his 3 minutes about preserving our historic waterfront; he got more into the commercial aspect, referring to the irreplaceability of the Todd Shipyard Graving Dock, which has been famously (or maybe infamously) made into a parking lot for the Ikea in Red Hook.

There were a whole slew of recreational boaters there, particularly the human-powered set but a few larger vessels too - common theme there, as nicely put by Rob Buchanan from the NYC Watertrail Association & the Village Community Boathouse, was that where the phrase "access to the waterfront" would be WAY better if it continued on with "AND THE WATER". That was something you heard quite a bit. People on Roosevelt Island, in particular, would like water access; they'd always been told that the currents around there are too dangerous for small boats, and it's true that they are swift around there, but they've had people who know the water look at the situation & find ways it could be done, and they'd like to see that happen. Rob actually asked in his 3 minutes if the phrase "dangerous currents" could please be dropped in future discussions - we do have powerful currents, but with a little knowledge, they aren't dangerous & in fact allow for some fantastic current-assisted trips (my longest day paddle ever, for example, was about 50 miles - try that without a flood & an ebb helping you out!). A gentleman from the Stuyvesant Cove area talked about the marina there being taken over by party boats & fees being prohibitive for private recreational vessels to even pull in to pick up & drop off. Somebody else talked about a long-established, less expensive, popular marina in Staten Island being shut down completely, a huge loss to his community.

There were a couple of complaints about the condition of the East River Esplanade. Somebody even said that east siders are jealous of west siders - I can see that, I lived on the Upper East Side eons ago & the esplanade was OK, but nowhere near as nice as the parks of the West Side. Funny thing is that it's when I was living over there that I assumed that there was something wrong with the NYC waterways that meant people couldn't go in them - the Upper East Side is really a line of manmade cliffs. There was a nice walkway along there - and it sounds like that walkway isn't all that nice now.

People from the Harlem River also talked about maintenance issues - and the even more frustrating situation they have with organizations like ConEd & the MTA having basically abandoned or barely used facilities sitting on wonderful parcels of waterfront land.

A couple of people from the Rockaways came & talked - the peninsula has wonderful recreational potential (fo'real! They even have SURFING!) but they just feel left out.

There were a few mentions of the difficulties of politics & managing developers. The "Our Waterfront Coalition" (Chinatown & downtown) mentioned that waterfront planning was being done with the input of their local community board, but somehow the CB wasn't communicating with the people they were supposed to be representing & an awful lot of the residents were completely unaware of the efforts. Someone expressed concern with the quasi-private companies that are in charge of more & more new parks. A guy from Greenpoint bewailed the tendency to allow developers to march a row of towers down the waterfront, for which they agree to provide greenspace - the towers get built, but then the greenspace doesn't (or is lousy, or hard to get to, or both). Another person spoke of the desirability of getting near-waterfront property owners to contribute - he talked about Chelsea, where there are blocks & blocks where property values have shot up with all the new park space, and the owners are just reaping the benefits of a lucky location. And then there was Bronx Green Party candidate Carl Lundgren, who pointed out that it's really really, awful, you don't see a lot of politicians at this type of meeting so Bronx people for him (ok, sorry, I didn't much like that he used this event for a stump speech).

There were a couple of people who talked about concern about rising sea levels & storm surge threats. Suggestions were made that people should be moved out of low-lying areas, and Bob Trentlyon (Chelsea community board member) went so far as to recommend that something like the Thames Barrier be built.

One of the people who suggested moving the residents of low-lying areas also had a good point in that the zones that Vision 2020 seems to want to use (recreational, green, commercial, etc.) should be recognized to overlap. She also had some interesting news, apparently there's a Monitor Museum in the works - did you know that the famous Civil War ironclad was built in Brooklyn? I bet you not that many Brooklynites do, I will definitely want to go see that when it opens!

Pretty close to done here, running out of steam so will try to wrap it up -

The commercial sector was there, although it would've been nice to see more of them speak. A tugboat captain spoke about how maritime transportation helps keep prices affordable in NY - if everything had to be brought in by truck, it would be much more expensive.

Ed Kelly gave a great little shoutout to the money the maritime industry brigns to the area - a $12billion payroll, 2 billion in taxes, 240K well-paying jobs (many blue-collar), spoke of the difficulties in dealing with a patchwork of conflicting regulations (NY, NJ & CT all have different regs & one tug passing through the area has to deal with all of them). He referred to the NYC waterfront as grossly underutilized compared to other great port cities - Hong Kong, Sidney, San Francisco - he said there's room for all - but then he totally wrecked (IMHO) an otherwise fantastic speech by trotting out the friggin' horse again. OK, this time it was a bicycle he said you wouldn't ride on a highway, but he sounded quite vehement - and he objected to Rob's request that people start talking about powerful currents instead of the more alarmist "dangerous currents". Closed with a recommendation that mandatory licensing be put in place for all recreational boaters in NY Harbor...ooooooookay. I wish he would just accept that this particular horse is long since out of the barn & maybe change his focus from this nanny-regulation dream to much more practical educational outreach efforts that the Coast Guard & a number of local organizations have been working on.

Roland from the Metropolitan Waterfront Association was there of course & gave a nice talk about this being an aspirational time, but it being important to actually align all of the various plans that are out there.

The last speaker I listened to was one I specifically waited for - Rachel, from the Coney Island-Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers. She was the only swimmer of the evening (Bowsprite had hoped to speak but she had a friend visiting & finally had to leave) - and she talked about how with the friendly cooperation of the lifeguards out there, Coney Island & Brighton Beach has become the premiere open-water swimming training beach on the East Coast - but again, facilities for people who want to go there to swim, not just lie on the beach, are lacking. SO TRUE - that is EXACTLY why I have NEVER gone swimming at Coney Island. I love swimming, and I'd rather swim in the ocean than in a pool, but logistically, I can't just go out there on my own & go for a long swim. A building where I could rent a locker would make that doable. As it is, well, I really should try to join CIBBOWS for a swim or two this year. Just to see if I really remember how!

I think that's it. Next step in the process will be 6 workshops, one in each borough. I'll post those here as soon as I hear about them. Note on the next day - this was obviously a note-taking error - either it's 5 workshops or there's an extra one for people who can't make the ones scheduled for their boroughs, or a big wrapup one - I'm leaving the error in because I'm not sure which is the correct correction, and I need to go paddling now so it's not a good time to look things up - plus it was a sort of funny/fortuitous error for me to make, see the comments for why!

Thanks for bearing with me on this very long report! Tomorrow, back to normal!


bowsprite said...

You are amazing, Frogma!!! Thank you for this transcript!

doryman said...

Amazing and wise.
I think you've so far missed your calling, bonnie. There are plenty of investment people, but few wise ones.

As an architect, I can understand the problem of lack of overlap. A landscape architect is only concerned with jurisdictionally appropriate landscaping, not practical use.

It's time to change our perception of our waterfront areas from a priority on commercial viability to the beauty of public use.

Reverend Shari said...

OK, I'll bite: what is the sixth borough?

will said...

this "sixth boro or borough" all the water that CONNECTS the other five and without which the other five would NOT have their prominence. in fact, they might not even exist.

bonnie said...

Oops. I was thinking "Where did I use the term '6th Borough' in this post?". Although it is a term I have used as Will defines it, I hadn't recalled mentioning it here. But I see I said "6 workshops, one for each borough" & that must have been a notetaking error - it has to have been either 5 workshops, one for each borough, or 6, one for each plus an extra one, maybe at the end.

I do like Will's term, but it has not yet gained official recognition. The term that was being used a lot was actually "the blue network" - also a nice one.

Thanks, Michael & Bowsprite. I'd say there were a lot of wise people there on Thursday - beyond a couple of opinions on the liked or disliked side, everything I wrote here was somebody else's idea. People who live, work, and play on the water & the waterfront know what's needed & they all turned up to tell the city planners about it. Hopefully the planners listen well & then KEEP listening - there's at least one sort of weird over-architected dock (it is like a flattened pyramid) in the Hudson River Park that those of us who were involved in an early planning meeting suspect was inspired by the something that was said there. It's like the Telephone game, where you whisper something into someones ear, and then it travels & when it comes back to you, it's changed completely - but you know how it started.

A lot of people were asking me if I was there to speak - I am happy to report that with the turnout we had, anything I would have had to say would simply have been a repetition of things other people had said better.

bowsprite said...

a quote from that man from the Harlem River Park keeps running in my head: "We've got sinkholes from 125st to 145st. You better fix our sinkholes before you finish that greenway!"

on the subject of sinkholes...a post to come...

bonnie said...

ooooh, I'm intrigued.

BTW as I was out paddling past Plum Beach, I realized that there was one group that was completely unrepresented there - no windsurfers! Very strange.

Anonymous said...

good synopsis. One thing struck an odd chord though. Carl from the Green Party was very well spoken, cogent, sincere and on point. If more people were involved in the manner he discussed, then much of the waterfront "aspirations" would be a reality.
The NYC Dept of City Planning delivered like 4o minutes of "stump speech" with shiny photos of condo towers along our shoreline. Three minutes to learn and hear from a dedicated advocate is time well invested!

Unknown said...

I work nights and am so grateful for your notes; Tina J

bonnie said...

Thank you, Anonymous. Actually the 40 minute "stump speech" you mention was the section during which I was still at work, then on the subway, then wandering around lost! Very interesting to hear what went on in that time, sounds like I missed a lot more than I thought I did.

bonnie said...

And I also see that I was rather knee-jerkily dismissive of Mr. Lundgren. I am a bit prejudiced against politicians as a class but the ones I have actually met (on more than a cursory handshake-at-my-subway-station-around-election-time level) are generally impressively dedicated people who are out there trying to get votes because they genuinely care about things & believe that they can make a difference. So, apology for untoward slam against a politician for no better reason than his being a politician.

NB_NYC said...

thanks, bonnie. your notes are better than mine.
one thing to add: owen foote read out the preliminary numbers culled from the nyc water trail association's 2009 user survey. the community boating groups responding reported well over 40,000 people were put out on the water in 2009 in their programs, all but about 1500 for free, by about 1300 volunteers and 85 paid staff. all the groups have established safety protocols, and the more than $3.5m combined operating budgets come mostly from foundation grants, membership fees, and individual donations.
this was not mentioned at the meeting, but i'm working with cortney worrall (of MWA) on a document similar to the one john doswell is submitting, but that addresses the construction of human-powered access points. we hope to submit that to City Planning in the coming weeks. when its finished i'll make sure to post it on the boards as well.

The Wide World said...

good account, now people need to be involved, city planning's job has been facilitate condos and displacement of people and privatize the city, especially the waterfront, let's not be duped... also, wonder what you mean by "politician". Mr. Lundgren is a long time activist/advocate from what I can tell, kind of the opposite of my definition of politician, of which there was not one elected official at that meeting, a few staffers, and most left rather hastily once planning did their show.......

bonnie said...

Please scroll up 2 comments for my apology regarding knee-jerk dismissal of Mr. Lundgren!

I see we share the same prejudice about politicians, too.

However, I think that when a person is actively seeking office, it is fair to call them a politician - Merriam-Webster definition 1 version.

David G said...

Bonnie, Of course all politicians have self-interest at heart. They say they go into politics because they believe in the people and the environment and truly want to change things. But honestly, after serving on a Community Board in NYC for many years and dealing with Rockland County officials, I can tell you that politicians are out for one thing and one thing only. And that is to benefit themselves... and I don't care what party they are from.

That being said, some politicians do good things. We have to say that Pataki saved more than 1,000,000 acres of state land when he was governor. I am hardly a Republican, but what did Cuomo or Spitzer or Patterson do for the envitonment. Lip service and budget cuts.

Politicians need to be dredged.....