Wednesday, May 24, 2006

“Collective Action Among Neighborhoods Makes Sense” Norwood News May 18-31, 2006

"Collective Action Among Neighborhoods Makes Sense” Norwood News May 18-31, 2006

from the printed edition in the Letters to the Editor column

The Norwood News was right to encourage community organizations to band together (editorial, April 20 – May 3, 2006). Focusing on the lopsided Council vote for the Yankee Stadium project, it’s easy to see how such cooperation would have produced a different result.

The key to understanding the City Council vote is protocol. The City Council doesn’t have time to debate all projects taking place in every district, so they follow the lead of the local Council member. Since Maria del Carmen Arroyo, in whose district the stadium will be situated, favored it, so did the Bronx delegation. And if the delegation favored it, so did the whole Council!

If a Council member were to violate protocol and vote their conscience, they would jeopardize their own chances of getting goods and services for their own districts. The only way that they can go against a local Council member is pressure from their own constituents. The way to bring this about is to have community organizations working together.

When plans were announced to build the Jets Stadium in Queens, taking a part of Flushing Meadows Park, Mayor Bloomberg quickly scuttled this idea, saying that the people would not want to give up their parks. Yankee Stadium opponents asked, “Why do you back down in Queens and not in the Bronx?”Two answers are the Queens Civic Congress and the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces. The first of these is an umbrella for over 100 community groups and the second, an umbrella for 416 parks organizations. With Queens so well organized and united, Bloomberg knew that a ferocious fight, which he could lose, would ensue, along with his chances for a second term.

Noting this development, The Ravens-Friends of Poe Park became the first Bronx group to endorse and support Save Our Parks’ battle against the new Yankee Stadium. Together, the groups gained the support of For a Better Bronx and the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality.

Attempts were made to secure the support of groups outside the Bronx. In Brooklyn, Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and the Prospect Heights Alliance gave enormous help and provided the necessary constituent base for Letitia James and Charles Barron to vote against the project. Save Our Parks also received the endorsement of the Queens Civic Congress and the Queens Coalition for Parks & Green Spaces. Although articles against sacking the parks began to appear in Queens newspapers, and some lobbying took place, time ran out before a more effective campaign could be mounted.

With these examples as encouraging precedents, there are two obstacles that must be surmounted to get communities working together: The first is overcoming parochialism. Community groups have created boundaries beyond which they refuse to act even though it would be in their interest to do so, since what happens next door today could happen in their backyards tomorrow. When parks are stolen in Highbridge, any park could be next. Community organizations must start thinking of them selves as citizens of New York City rather than of Bedford Park, Bensonhurst or Flushing.

The second problem: community organizations fear alienating their local politicians who facilitate action from city agencies and help secure city contracts. This problem cannot be exaggerated. Bronx organizations refused to condemn the stadium project even though their members overwhelmingly opposed it because of the fear of losing grants. Instead of the politicians fearing the voters, it’s the voters fearing their elected officials. Community groups must be encouraged by the courageous stand of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality and For a Better Bronx. Obviously, if more organizations stand together, the dependency on the good will of a particular politician will evaporate.

There are three initial ways in which community groups can start working together: 1) press for action in the City Council on an issue for which support would be overwhelming, such as a law prohibiting the use of parks for private development; 2) unite to fight actions which affect everyone, such as MTA’s desire to close all token booths; 3) get a community organization to step forth and invite representatives from all Bronx community groups to come together under one roof and start organizing an association modeled after the Queens Civic Congress. Such an organization would be powerful in its own right and could easily form citywide alliances.

Working together citywide, community organizations will make the people major players in decisions which affect their lives and make New York City a better place to live in the future.

John Rozankowski
Bedford Park


At 12:18 PM, Anonymous jamesjoseph said...

Nice letter. But Mr. Rozankowski is wrong about the Bronx delegation favoring Yankee Stadium because Maria del Carmen Arroyo favored it. Arroyo favored it because she was told to favor it by the Bronx powers -- Carrion, Rivera, her mother, etc. Even Helen Foster, who publicly spoke out against the project, was kissing rings in the backroom.


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