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BWRC is hiring!

The Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center (BWRC) at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) is seeking a highly motivated and organized individual who can help advance the Center’s mission. In addition to its scholarly and pedagogical endeavors, the Center’s main public activities include “Breakfast Talks” and one major conference in the Spring semester. Topics of past public lectures include the history of biking in Coney Island, the gentrification of Sunset Park, the history of the Gowanus Canal, and the creation of a solar energy cooperative at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. The next annual conference in April 2020 will investigate the effects of the emerging hospitality sector on the communities along the Brooklyn waterfront.

The Project Coordinator will be responsible for helping shape and facilitate events, promote them to CUNY and the public, and oversee the logistics of the events. Knowledge of urban planning, geography, politics, and history is helpful as most topics that the Center explores deal with one or more of these disciplines. An ability to understand and use online tools such as WordPress, EventBrite, and MailChimp is essential. In practice, the role of project coordinator bridges academia, urban planning, and event coordination. The candidate will work closely with the Center’s director.

Time Commitment: 8-15h/week, usually Tuesday mornings and all day Thursday. You will also be asked to work Fridays on occasion.

Compensation: $20 per hour

Current Graduate Students Only

Start Date: Beginning of the Fall Semester 2019

To Apply: Send a resume and a one-page statement to Professor Richard E. Hanley rhanley@citytech.cuny.edu with a subject title “Project Coordinator.” Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

Living in Brooklyn: Annual Conference Recap

BWRC hosted its ninth annual conference, Living in Brooklyn: Housing along the Brooklyn Waterfront on April 12, 2019, at City Tech’s new academic complex. The conference this year focused on two of the greatest challenges facing housing along the waterfront: gentrification and climate change. Over 200 community members, activists, students, scholars, and agency officials registered for the event.

The morning began with an introduction of the history of Brooklyn’s waterfront, featuring Dr. Kurt Schlichting of Fairfield State University. Dr. Schlichting, a BWRC Research Fellow, contributed original research and a white paper, “Housing along the Brooklyn Waterfront: A Story of Shipping, Industry and Immigrants.” The paper, which is also included in our conference program, covers the dramatic changes the waterfront has undergone since the eighteenth century. Once among the largest and busiest ports in the world, Brooklyn’s waterfront was also home to a series of immigrant enclaves over the years, with communities hailing from Germany, Ireland, Norway, Italy, and Eastern Europe dotting the neighborhoods behind the ports. Deindustrialization, suburbanization, and redlining practices radically transformed the waterfront in the postwar era, and the housing stock and working waterfront fell into decline. Over the last thirty years, however, the Brooklyn waterfront has experienced a resurgence in population and an economic transformation. Rather than innovations in manufacturing and shipping, the greatest challenges for residents in these neighborhoods are gentrification and displacement.

Following the historical overview, Jessica Yager, Vice President of Policy & Planning at WIN (Women In Need) provided the audience with the framework and context of housing affordability along the Brooklyn waterfront. Yager introduced each neighborhood, from Williamsburg to Coney Island, DUMBO to East New York, noting their similarities (housing has gotten less affordable in every neighborhood along the waterfront) and their differences (Coney Island has over 40,000 housing units in the 100-year flood plain, compared to 48 in East New York).

The first panel, moderated by Dr. Nicholas Bloom of the New York Institute of Technology, featured speakers from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) and the Department of City Planning (DCP). John Mangin, Senior Counsel at DCP, gave a brief history of subsidized and affordable housing policies in New York, noting the role that zoning designations can play in activating land for residential development. Fabiana Meacham, Chief of Staff at HPD, introduced the Mayor’s affordable housing plan, which aims to build and preserve 300,000 affordable homes by 2026. Brendan McBride (Associate Commissioner for New Construction) and Rona Reodica (Assistant Commissioner for Building & Land Development Services), both from HPD, detailed the various financing instruments available for New York to build affordable housing and the design guidelines that shape new construction. Dr. Alex Schwartz, Professor of Urban Policy at the New School, wrapped up the panel by pointing out the tremendous budget gap facing public and subsidized housing and the limitations this poses for policymakers.

City Tech professor of architecture, Jason Montgomery, led the second panel, “Affordable Housing against the Odds: Innovative Developments along the Brooklyn Waterfront.” Private and non-profit housing developers engaged in a lively conversation about their respective efforts to provide quality affordable housing for a range of residents. Martin Dunn, President of Dunn Development, Frank Lang, Director of Housing at St. Nicks Alliance, Brenda Rosen, CEO of Breaking Ground, and Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee, introduced their respective development portfolios along the Brooklyn Waterfront. Among the greatest challenges facing affordable development, the panelists agreed, are the costs of land and construction. “Affordable housing isn’t affordable to develop,” noted de la Uz.

During lunch, Professor Emeritus Tom Angotti of CUNY delivered a rejoinder to the morning’s panels, “The Future of the Brooklyn Waterfront: Affordability and Resilience Are Not Enough.” Dr. Angotti emphasized that community and social resilience, cultivated through social justice activism, are fundamental steps toward climate resilience and housing affordability. Without robust community organizing and activism, neighborhood planning cannot preserve affordability and equity.

The lunch address was a great segue into the third panel, “Preserving and Expanding Housing Affordability through Organizing.” Oksana Mironova of the Community Service Society of New York moderated this panel, which featured organizers and planners from the Brooklyn Waterfront. Michael Higgins, Jr., lead organizer for Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) discussed the challenges of balancing the various needs of the Gowanus community during the rezoning, including NYCHA repairs, industrial preservation, affordable housing development, and EPA remediation. Tevina Willis of the Red Hook Initiative discussed her efforts to bring policy attention and government investment to the Red Hook houses, noting that “when you speak of affordable housing, public housing is always the last last note on the last page. My work is to get public housing on the first page of these reports.” Renae Widdison, Director of Land Use and Planning for Council District 38 in Brooklyn, outlined her office’s approach to new economic development initiatives: “How will this benefit the people in this community?” The upcoming vote on New York’s rent laws are a huge issue in the affordable housing world this year, and Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for the Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance, offered critical insights about the role of real estate interests in housing access, the cycles of investment and gentrification that transform communities, and how critical organizing is to preserving and promoting equity across the city.

The final panel, “Housing Resilience: Strategies for Climate Readiness,” was moderated by City Tech professor of architecture Illya Azaroff. What are the primary challenges for the future of housing along the Brooklyn Waterfront? Professor Azaroff pointed out that sea level rise could reach 108 inches over the next 80 years, flooding most of the low-lying areas of New York City and displacing 400,000 people. Architects and planners have already started thinking about these challenges, including Deborah Gans, Founder and Principal of GANS Studio. Gans described how she and her colleagues design for resiliency, whether through elevated home or native grass landscaping. Michele Moore, Director of Recovery and Resilience at NYCHA, outlined the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy in NYCHA buildings across the five boroughs and explained how new funding would upgrade and protect the homes of over 600,000 low-income residents. Homeowners in the flood areas face a completely different set of obstacles and challenges as sea levels continue to rise. Rachel Stein, Deputy Director of Sustainability and Resiliency at the Center for New York City Neighborhoods (CNYC) covered the various programs and strategies she and her colleagues pursue to assist homeowners, including flood insurance information, resiliency audits, backwater valve installations, and energy efficiency training. Dan Wiley wrapped up the presentations on this panel, discussing the roles federal funding and resources can play in designing resilient communities for the future.

The last panel introduced an important, albeit difficult, question: Should there be housing along the Brooklyn Waterfront, or is it time to move residents and resources inland? Michael Marrella, Director of Waterfront and Open Space Planning at DCP joined the panelists to broach this question and explore the many challenges and opportunities facing waterfront planning in the coming decades. The fundamental issue, noted Marrella, is that unequal wealth and resources across different neighborhoods will ultimately determine the impact of climate change on these neighborhoods.

BWRC Director Richard Hanley closed the conference with a few words, thanking participants and staff for their contributions. Many thanks also go out to Robin Michals and Jeremy Renner for generously photographing the conference.

Lastly, stay tuned for more information about our next Breakfast Talk, which will feature speakers discussing the Solar One project in Sunset Park.

Next Steps at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

BWRC hosted its first Breakfast Talk of 2019 on March 15th. Last fall, the Brooklyn Navy Yard publicly released an ambitious Masterplan for the future development and growth of its 200 acre-plus campus. Adam Lubinsky, AICP and Managing Principal of WXY Studios, introduced the community to the civic and physical infrastructure that are included in the Masterplan. Once the largest employer in the five boroughs, the Navy Yard was decommissioned in the 1966 by the federal government as an active defense industry site. Although the city maintained the property and leased some low-cost production space to tenants in the following decades, the ramifications of losing nearly 70,000 jobs had a tremendous impact on the surrounding communities. Since taking over management of the Navy Yard in 1981, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC) has put great efforts into revitalizing manufacturing and creative industries in Brooklyn by leasing production and office space at below-market rates to a variety of tenants.

Competition is already fierce for available space on the campus, and the limited availability also limits the growth, and thus employment, potential of the industries operating there. Currently, about 8,000 jobs are held at Navy Yard firms. All pre-existing buildings have now been rehabilitated and filled, which leaves BNYDC with only one option: to build more. BNYDC and WXY Studios project that with the new buildings, the Navy Yard could host nearly 30,000 jobs. Lubinsky walked the audience through a birds-eye view of the future, highlighting critical design elements like “vertical manufacturing” buildings, pedestrian, ferry, and bike connectivity to the surrounding community, and the integration of social infrastructure like day care, public programming, and educational facilities.

The opening of the Brooklyn STEAM Center (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) in Building 77 earlier this winter marked a watershed moment for innovative public education and career training in New York City. The morning’s second speaker, Katie Beck-Sutler, Vice President of Workforce Development at BNYDC, presented the structure and guiding ethos of the STEAM Center within the Navy Yard. The STEAM Center is managed and run by the Department of Education and pulls junior and senior high school students from eight Brooklyn schools. Students spend a half day taking courses at their base high school, and then spend a half day at the STEAM Center, working closely with industry experts and entrepreneurs in fields like coding, digital design, culinary arts, construction, and media arts. Students receive on-the-job training, industry-recognized credentials, and leave with a portfolio of work that can jump-start their next step after graduation. More importantly, noted Beck-Sutler, students are immersed in a professional environment. In addition to the technical skills they learn in the classroom, students are exposed to the subtle “soft” skills that are critical to career advancement. Working directly with entrepreneurs and firms in the Navy Yard is a huge advantage because it develops a pipeline of talent aligned with industry needs that will benefit both student and employer, encouraging company growth and economic development in Brooklyn.

We’d also like to remind you that on April 12th, BWRC will be hosting its annual conference at CUNY City Tech. “Living in Brooklyn: Housing along the Brooklyn Waterfront” will feature panels discussing affordable housing policy and financing, various development strategies, the role of organizing and tenant’s rights in preserving affordability, and what the future may hold for residents along the waterfront as sea levels and storm surges continue to threaten the viability of housing.

 

Visions for Newtown Creek

BWRC hosted its first Breakfast Talk of the semester, “Visions for Newtown Creek,” on October 12th, 2018. Speakers representing the Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper outlined their comprehensive, community-driven Vision Plan for the remediation of Newtown Creek.

Lisa Bloodgood, Director of Advocacy and Education at the Newtown Creek Alliance and Chrissy Remein, the Community Project manager at Riverkeeper, presented this ambitious plan starting with a brief history of the challenges inherent to environmental restoration in a densely-populated urban industrial environment. Among the most pressing concerns for residents in the area is the chronic issue of combined sewage overflow (CSO), which occurs when sewer systems are overloaded with rainwater run-off, diverting a mixture of sewage and stormwater to the nearest water body–in this case, the Newtown Creek. Watch this video by the Center for Urban Pedagogy to learn more about CSO.

Although it was designated as a Superfund site by the EPA in 2010, the formal environmental remediation process in Newtown Creek has yet to begin. While the EPA continued its research and feasibility studies, community and environmental advocacy organizations formed the Superfund Community Advisory Group (CAG) with local residents, businesses, and environmental advocacy groups to develop a long-term planning strategy, culminating in the 85-part Vision Plan.

At the heart of the Vision Plan is a commitment to protect and support Newtown Creek as a site of industry and employment in the community. The various strategies outlined by the report intend to strike an appropriate balance of uses between recreation and industry by reimagining what these public spaces can achieve for future generations.