Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his seventh State of the City

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his seventh State of the City address at the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday, February 6, 2020.

Mayor Bill de Blasio gave this year’s State of the City address and released a blueprint to, what he called, “Save Our City.” Yet there is a pattern of failure within the de Blasio administration to meaningfully engage with communities striving to do just that, especially in neighborhoods targeted for rezoning efforts. In December, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge brought an Inwood rezoning plan to a halt when the city failed to take a “hard look” at how regulating land use would impact the neighborhood. 

The city continues to set a precedent of callous disregard for community concerns. In a move insulting to community leaders and people who call Bushwick home, the Mayor’s Office declined to even study the impacts of the Bushwick Community Plan— a collaborative rezoning plan of local residents, community groups, elected officials and city agencies six years in the making.

The city made progress by working in tandem with the community to build out the plan but fell short of flipping the script on how they deal with community-based proposals. Instead, they pulled the rug out from under the hundreds of volunteers who participated in establishing a new model of community-led planning by failing to take even the first step in studying the plan.

Mayor de Blasio’s administration has an opportunity to alter a historical narrative of snubbing community priorities and reclaim the privilege of representing the people. Study the comprehensive plan put forth by Bushwick community members, acknowledge the broader priorities that the city needs to ensure sustainable growth, and consider how the people’s ideas will complement and strengthen their own plan.

Deputy Mayor Vicki Been mischaracterized the Bushwick Community Plan’s approach as “fundamentally a downzoning.” To be sure, the plan does advocate for restricting height on residential streets to preserve Bushwick’s historic character. But it also uses the city’s own framework to call for the building of thousands of much-needed new affordable apartments.

In a neighborhood where the median household income in 2017 was $51,622—about 17 percent less than the citywide median, and the poverty rate was 27 percent, compared to 18 percent citywide, gentrification has arrived in a fury. As of November 2019, the median asking rent for Bushwick was $2,750/month, and 51 percent of Bushwick residents are paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent. 

As heads of RiseBoro Community Partnership and the Brooklyn Community Board 4, two of the 11 local organizations who helped craft the community plan’s recommendations, it is evident that the proposal is far more complex and comprehensive than one solely focused on zoning. It is aimed at protecting and preserving a neighborhood in the throes of gentrification, disruption and displacement. The community-driven proposal is a thoughtful look at all the resources Bushwick needs to thrive now and in the future, including transportation infrastructure, open space, economic development, and community services.

Characterizing the plan as “essentially a downzoning” is disingenuous and ignores the comprehensive needs of our community. And disagreeing with one aspect of the plan does not disqualify the rest to be, at the very least, studied and considered. 

There are broader priorities to ensure sustainable growth in Bushwick. The city needs to adjust their laser focus on rezoning to other infrastructure and investments the community says are needed to help the neighborhood to keep up with the growth.

Bushwick has half the access to parks and open space as compared to the rest of New Yorkers. It has 12 historic landmarks but no historic district to protect them and one of the lowest grocery store access rates among all NYC neighborhoods. As gentrification barrels forward, the community plan addresses zoning, plus these grievances and others. Communities deserve a basic level of self determination in how their neighborhoods evolve over time.

We are not asking the city to take this proposal and implement it untouched. Our ask is merely that they study it as an option. The hundreds of residents and countless organizations who worked for years on developing the Bushwick Community Plan deserve to be heard. 

If this administration doesn’t start to listen to the voice and will of local communities like Bushwick, their plans to rezone Gowanus and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx will be dead on arrival. Their legacy of disregarding democracy and bulldozing local communities will not change. It is time the de Blasio administration stands by their progressive principles and uplifts the voice of the people.

Scott Short is the CEO of RiseBoro Community Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to holistic community revitalization in New York City. Robert Camacho is the chairperson of Brooklyn Community Board 4.