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The Bronx Center Project - "Don't Move, Improve"
USA

Keyword: Social Exclusion/Integration

Background

The Bronx Center project, a collaborative, community based plan to revitalize a severely deteriorated 300 block section of the South Bronx, is unprecedented in method and scope. As a multi-discipline plan, The Bronx Center encompasses a gamut of different projects such as economic development, health and human services, education and culture, housing and transportation.

In method, Bronx Center features an approach to addressing urban problems that connects community members, academics, urban development professionals, not-for-profit organizations, local businesses, cultural and social institutions, and city officials/politicians in a problem-solving process that is active and collaborative. Through hundreds of frequently convened community forums and smaller working groups, organized with the help of the Bronx Community Forum, participants are discussing and finding solutions to the social, economic and physical problems of this 300 block neighborhood.

In scope, this community-based participatory planning process involves $2 billion in comprehensive revitalization activities over the next five years, including projects aimed at the restoration of architecturally significant buildings like the Old Bronx Courthouse which we will reopen to the community after 25 years as the Bronx Planning Center; the construction of hundreds of new low and mid-rise residences in Melrose Commons and the development of community-based health and human services facilities under the leadership of Nos Quedamos/We Stay; the rehabilitation of existing -and the development of new- educational and cultural institutions, such as our newly designed High School for Law, Government and Justice to be housed in a soon to be built Supreme Court building; the creation of new open space and recreational facilities; and the improvement of transportation systems.

Perhaps most importantly, Bronx Center mandates the creation of jobs and job training programs to enable area residents to increase their earning potential and to expand their economic opportunities -- as workers, entrepreneurs, and investors.

With the Bronx Center plan in place, the project is presently in the implementation phase. We described the individual projects in greater detail in other questions within this survey. We also are providing you with a report on the Bronx Center.


Narrative

The Bronx Center project encompasses a 300 block area in the South Bronx and includes specific revitalization projects in the areas of economic development, health and human services, education and culture, housing, and transportation. Underlying the specific projects in these areas are four basic principles which embody the values, desires and hopes of Bronx Center participants in both the planning and implementation phase of this $2 billion community-based revitalization program:

1. Effective and meaningful planning must be a product of a bottom-up community based process. Planning based on this principle holds the most promise for long-term benefits for all members of the community.

2. Planning must be interdisciplinary, comprehensive and integrated at evey stage. The renewal of the area's physical infrastructure is integrally linked to the development and delivery of new social, educational, and economic opportunities for Bronx residents. The human agenda must form the basis for an agenda for physical renewal.

3. The economic and social revitalization of this extensive geographical area must bring benefits to the immediate community, the Bronx, and the city as a whole. As both a process for social and economic advancement and a place for physical redevelopment, the Bronx Center must become an economic engine for the borough as a service-providing center that will influence an area far beyond its nominal boundaries. It will provide the education, training and access to capital needed for full participation in the economy of the 21st century, lead in delivering health and human services, and offer far more recreational and cultural opportunities that are now available.

4. As individual projects develop, Bronx Center must continue to be anchored by an ongoing community-driven participatory process that helps to develop civic responsibility and rebuild civic life.

In each of our program areas, the Bronx Center project has numerous ongoing project activities. The attached project report, executive summary and project update provides much more detail about these efforts. Summarized elsewhere are specific accomplishments of the various ongoing projects. In brief, the community's most notable projects currently underway include:

1. creation of a community labor exchange so that Bronx Center residents may secure jobs -- both permanent and construction -- on new construction projects in the Bronx;

2. rehabilitation of a landmark courthouse building, which has been unoccupied for more than 25 years, and conversion of it into a the Bronx Planning Center, a facility to house community planning workshops, exhibits, and to serve as an urban meeting center;

3. design of a series of community friendly development alternatives to be included into the City's proposed Supreme Court Complex building plan, such as the creation of more retail, day care, a high school, literacy training and adult education opportunities, and a library;

4. development of a community resident's plan for the reuse of the Bronx Terminal Market and Yankee Stadium area;

5. preparation of a funding proposal for the creation one of three Bronx Center theme high schools -- the High School for Law, Government and Justice as a NYC New Visions School (the two other theme high schools are one focusing on careers in sports management affiliated with Yankee Stadium and one to operate as part of the proposed NYC Police Academy for social and criminal justice training);

6. design and construction of a senior citizens' residence through a $7.5 HUD grant;

7. funding of a community enhancement program to provide grants and loans to new homeowners in the Bronx Center area;

8. construction of permanent housing for homeless and low income families under the City's 85/85 program;

9. submission of an application to the City to renovate several abandoned or partially occupied apartment buildings in Melrose Commons;

10. redesigning of the Metro North train station within Bronx Center and renovation of the adjacent Melrose Park;

11. preparation of a safe and active streets and open space proposal; and

12. convening of frequent community meetings and outreach efforts, as organized by the Bronx Community Forum, so as to keep the community informed, engaged and involved in Bronx Center project planning and implementation.


Impact

I. Local Economic Participation

One of the primary goals of Bronx Center is to ensure that area residents and businesses gain access to as many jobs, both construction and permanent, and contracting opportunities as possible.

Bronx Center launched the CLE, a working group consisting of neighborhood residents and construction workers organized to work more productively toward securing jobs from construction projects underway in the Bronx.

The CLE has been successful in getting work for Bronx residents during the construction of the Concourse Plaza Office Building. The CLE also is working with the Turner Construction Company on the construction of the Montefiore Clinic, and has received a commitment from Turner for work on Battery Park City. The CLE has also recently begun work with the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council on a senior citizen housing construction project.

The CLE meets every Monday night.

II. Melrose Commons

The Melrose Commons community mobilized in response to a City-sponsored housing plan that would have relocated approximately 250 families from their homes.

Residents of Melrose configured a new redevelopment strategy and organized the Nos Quedamos/We Stay Committee to design a "livable city." They began meeting with architects, planners and city agency staff to draft their vision for the neigborhood.

The Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Plan was approved and signed by the Mayor.

The efforts of Nos Quedamos have led to three funded projects to date within the Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Area: (1) a senior citizens' residence has received a $7.5 million commitment from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); (2) a community enhancement program to provide grants and loans to homeowners in the urban renewal area received funding from the Bronx Borough President; and (3) Nos Quedamos and Phipps Houses are proposing to build permanent housing under the NYS/NYC 85/85 program as follow: 51% of units for homeless families, and the remaining 49% for families earning 60% of the median income.

In addition, Nos Quedamos has submitted an application to the City to qualify for their Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) to renovate several abandoned or partially occupied apartment buildings in the urban renewal area.

Nos Quedamos meets weekly on Tuesdays.

III. Bronx Planning Center

The Bronx Planning Center is a 3,000 square feet community facility within the abandoned former Bronx Borough Courthouse which will create a foothold in this landmark structure by opening the door and returning the first floor to civic use.

More than $850,000 has been raised to date from public and private sources to renovate the facility.

On behalf of Bronx Center, The Urban Assembly has been negotiating a lease on the Bronx Borough Courthouse. Construction is ready to start.

Architectual drawings and construction documents are completed. A building permit application is in development.

IV. Yankee Stadium Waterfront/Triangle Market

The triangle of land along the Harlem River where Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Terminal Market are located provides an exciting opportunity for major new development. There is considerable potential for transforming this strategically located but under-utilized space into an attractive recreation and business complex.

The Urban Assembly/Bronx Center is undertaking a study of the feasibility of redeveloping the area now occupied by the Bronx Terminal Market.

After many community meetings, the study evaluated two community-sponsored concepts: 1) physical improvements to the Bronx Terminal Market area to allow for manufacturing companies to move in; and 2) a retail center anchored by big box retailers.

The consulting team is also working with residents to respond to the City's master plan for Yankee Stadium area.

V. Supreme Court Complex

The Supreme Court complex is a proposed 1.2 million square-foot facility from 161st to 163rd Streets.

In response to interest in this project and concerns from the community, Bronx Center teamed up with the Mid-Bronx Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) and formed the Supreme Court Complex Task Force.

The Task Force meets monthly to review the community's programmatic priorities, including development of local temporary and permanent construction jobs, a new high school for social justice leading to careers in law, a bilingual library, retail outlet along 161st Street and facilities to provide literacy training, adult education in preparation for court-related jobs, day care, social service referrals and public meetings.

In numerous community forums with attendence of more than 300 neighborhood residents at each one, people expressed concerns about the proposed facility to City representatives.

The Task Force sponsored a Library Workshop in conjuction with Partners for Livable Communities, Project for Public Spaces and Libraries of the Future to develop a concept and program for an expanded bilingual library within the court complex.

As a result of the forums, there were two working groups formed, a youth committee and an outreach committee.

The youth committee was formed because of some concerns expressed by the young people at the forum that they were not included or well informed on the issues surrounding the Supreme Court Complex. It also meets to examine the idea of a theme school as part of the Complex. This group eventually grew to become part of the Bronx Center education committee, which developed the proposal for the Bronx School for law, government and justice.

The outreach committee works to keep the community informed on the court complex and focused on organizing the community to participate in the public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement sponsored by the city.

The outreach committee was successful in getting between 50 and 60 residents to come out and testify at the hearing on a workday recently.

The Supreme Court Complex Task Force continues to meet monthly.

VI. Education

Education has always been of primary concern to Bronx Center. The original Bronx Center plan called for the inclusion of three theme high schools, one focusing on careers in sports management, one to operate as part of the proposed Police Academy and one which would focus on social and criminal justice.

The Bronx Center Education Committee recently began working with the Supreme Court Complex Task Force youth and outreach committees to develop a proposal to the Fund for the NYC Public Education for a theme high school focusing on law, government and justice, the idea being to create a high school which will eventually function as part of the Supreme Court Complex.

The proposal was completed and submitted to the NYC Fund for Public Education.

The Education Committee continues to meet to develop the school concept and prepare for the RFP interview process. The committee was also recently informed that they were one of the 50 groups out of the 200 which submitted proposals that would be called back for an interview. Of these 50 groups, 10 will receive grants.

The Education Committee meets biweekly on Wednesday evenings.

VII. The Bronx Community Forum

From the outset, the critical aspect of the Bronx Center process has been community outreach and participation by local residents in every aspect of planning and development. Input from the whole community - not sporadic, but ongoing - empowers residents who have stayed in neighborhoods during difficult times and restores public trust in government and the planning process as vehicles for positive change.

The Bronx Forum is the primary vehicle for ongoing public participation and engagement in Bronx Center policy, planning and development, disseminating socio-economic and political information and stimulating participation by local residents and youth organizations.

Meetings are held almost daily.

To inform the community of meetings, A calender of events is distributed to several hundred community residents monthly.

VIII. Metro North Station/Melrose Park

Bronx Center submitted an ISTEA proposal to renovate the Metro North train station and rehabilitate the adjacent Melrose Park.

A $175,000 ISTEA grant was recently awarded for the project.

IX. Open Space

A proposal was submitted to NEA to fund an open space and safe streets initiative that would create defensible public spaces in the Bronx Center area. Additionally, a similar proposal was made to the federal Department of Transportation under its new Livable Communities program.


Sustainability

From the outset, one of the most critical and unique aspects of the Bronx Center project has been the unprecendented level of community outreach and participation by local residents in every aspect of planning, development and implementation. The Bronx Center project demonstrates that input from the whole community -- not sporadic, but ongoing - has empowered the residents who have stayed in this 300 block neighborhood during its difficult times. Perhaps the most important lesson learned from the Bronx Center experience is that through bottom-up, partipatory and resposive processes, we can restore public trust in government and the planning process as vehicles for positive change in our society. One of the most painful experiences learned through past failures is that without broad and intensive public enthusiasm and support, no development plan can survive the political hurdles of planning and funding decisions that lie primarily in the hands of city, state and federal officials. Without wide popular support and a community invested in the success of a plan, the private sector and community groups will not take the many future actions needed to translate the plan into actions.

In citing Bronx Center as an emerging national model, Herbert Muschamp, architectural critic of the New York Times, captured the energy and enthusiasm of the community's efforts, "People argued with a passion, but this was not a contest. It was an entrance into their own city. Many people at this meeting had been trapped within the armor of their grievance...they stood to gain by setting grievance aside...by joining other who have felt similarly displaced...Experts and politicians have had useful experiences,too...But, perhaps the most useful asset displayed by Bronx Center volunteer professionals is their grasp of hierachy. Though their expertise places them at the apex of the organizational pyramid, they have turned the pyramid upside down. They stand at the bottom supporting those above."

As Bronx Center moves from planning and development into the implementation stages, community residents remain stimulated and engaged in all aspects of the project.


Contact

    Bronx Center
    A 300 Block Area in South Bronx
    Bronx
    New York
    USA
    10451
    212-841-1205

Sponsor

    The Urban Assembly, New York, New York
    Richard A. Kahan, President
    1330 Ave. of the Americas, 4th Floor
    New York
    New York
    USA
    10019
    212-841-1205 N/A

Partners

    Office of the Bronx Borough President, Bronx NY
    Yolando Garcia, President, Nos Quedams
    811 Courtlandt Street
    Bronx
    New York
    USA
    10452
    718-585-2323

    Nos Quedamos/We Stay, Melrose Commons, South Bronx
    Harry DeRienzo, Parodneck Foundation
    121 Sixth Avenue, Suite 501
    New York
    New York
    USA
    10013
    212-431-9700

    Bronx Community Forum, Bronx Center Area
    Fernando Ferrer, Borough President
    851 Grand Concourse
    Bronx
    New York
    USA
    10451
    718-590-3500


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