Brooklyn as a culturally vibrant neighborhood

Greenpoint Greenpoint, Brooklyn is a culturally vibrant neighborhood full of a wide range of retail shops, restaurants, bars & venues, banks, and other services. It is largely occupied by people of Polish descent (43. 6% according to the 2000 Census) and of Hispanic descent (19. 2%. ) The median income is $33,578, significantly lower than the corresponding national average of $41,994.

Even with the median income in Greenpoint being almost $10,000 less than the national average, it has many of the same difficult characteristics shared by most New York City neighborhoods – namely igher-than-average housing prices, overcrowded schools, higher utility prices, high local taxes, and lack of high paying Jobs- all of which create a much higher total cost of living than most cities in the United States. A very low proportion of Greenpoint residents own their homes. According to the 2000 census, only 19. 2% of residents owned the homes they were living in, versus the 66. % national average. Rent prices have also consistently been on the rise, despite a few significant hiccups since the November 2008 financial crisis. It could be a great advantage to local residents if a rogram was set up providing local tax breaks for first time home owners in Greenpoint. Also, if the budget would allow, the City could match the Federal government’s pledge of $8000 in assistance for first time homebuyers. With $16,000 in assistance, and lowered taxes, many Greenpoint residents who otherwise would not be able to purchase a home might be able to afford that option.

A lower percentage of Greenpoint residents graduate high school than the national average (70. 4% vs. 80. 4%), which is also true for those with Bachelors degrees (21. 2% vs. 24. 4%). This lack of higher education hinders peoples’ likelihood of getting high aying Jobs, and in turn, makes it harder for them to move out of poverty into the middle class. A no-cost GED training center should be set up on Greenpoint Avenue to assist high school dropouts (of any age) in getting a diploma. Similarly, a Greenpoint GED College fund should be set up, to provide full CUNY scholarships for the top 10% of the graduates of these GED programs.

This not only would incline many people to seek their own education who otherwise wouldn’t, but it would also prevent many of the best students from slipping through the cracks, and ensure that more Greenpoint kids got a chance to go to college. A hot button issue for Greenpoint (and Brookyn as a whole) is land-use and development. In 2005, the City Council passed a plan for the re-zoning and development of much of the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront, as well a large block of the upland area. The plan is known as the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Land Use and Waterfront Plan.

The plan focuses on changing zoning regulations along the northern Brooklyn waterfront and some of the upland areas, mostly to allow for large residential buildings to be built. Many residents of the community were worried about the waterfront development uildings being built very high, and pushed for regulations limiting the number of condominium ; rental developments being geared only toward those with high incomes, and not toward those with average Greenpoint ; Williamsburg incomes (Williamsburg has an even lower median income than Greenpoint, $23,567. An attempt was made to strike a compromise between the community and the development groups, to solve both of these problems in one fell swoop. The compromise that was eventually passed is called the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Inclusionary Housing Program, which attempts to address concerns about both uilding height and low-income housing. The program stipulates that any development that includes a certain amount of affordable housing is eligible for a “floor area bonus”, meaning they are allowed to build higher than the base restriction.

There are 2 waterfront zones designated, R6 and R8; in R6 the base floor area restriction is up to 23 stories, in R8 it is 33 stories. With 20-25% of space within the development designated for affordable housing, this restriction can be raised 4. 7% to 30 stories and 40 stories respectively. While in theory this idea sounds promising, in practice it will not accomplish the goals it claims to. First of all, if a new development chooses not to go past the floor area restrictions, then there is no requirement that they provide any affordable housing.

This leaves little incentive for developers to spend the extra money to build higher, and choose to include the low- income housing, as they only gain 4. 6% in floor area bonus, but have to designate over 20% of the total space of affordable housing. It ends up only inclining them against building past the base floor area restrictions (which many residents believe are already far too lax, allowing for unnecessarily tall buildings that block other uildings’ views, and obstruct sunlight for large areas of the upland waterfront. I believe the plan should be changed to require that any and all new developments include at least 10% affordable housing to begin with. In addition to the affordable housing problem, the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Land Use and Waterfront Plan does not include any provisions for building new schools in the neighborhood. A new high school in Greenpoint is sorely needed, as most high school age students who cannot attend the Automotive Technical School, which is the only public high school in Greenpoint, end up attending schools in Ridgewood, Queens and Williamsburg.

The plan also has no provisions for public daycare centers, tutoring or after-school programs, or improved transportation routes from the northwestern waterfront area (which is very difficult to commute from). It would be prudent to adjust the plan to require at least some of these programs to be set up in the area, at the shared cost of the developers’ and the City. It is important to use contractors and building companies from the local area when building new developments in Greenpoint. Too often, contracts for restoration projects, and new developments end up going to companies not from Brooklyn.

For instance the old Greenpoint Hospital, which has been gathering dust since 1982, is going to be converted in 240 units of affordable housing, but the contract for this conversion went to TNS Development Group, based in Queens. Two other contracts, from local Greenpoint community groups, were both rejected. A perfect sector to create high paying Jobs in the local community is in skilled construction and building, it seems only right to award the slew of evelopment contracts that are available in the area to local contractors and edited to require that 50% of all building contracts from now on go to companies located in the 11222 area code.

Shortly before her death, Jane Jacobs summed up the problems with the waterfront development plans in a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “The community’s plan does not cheat the future by neglecting to provide provisions for schools, daycare, recreational outdoor sports, and pleasant facilities for those things. The community’s plan does not promote new housing at the expense of both xisting housing and imaginative and economical new shelter that residents can afford.

The community’s plan does not violate the existing scale of the community, nor does it insult the visual and economic advantages of neighborhoods that are precisely of the kind that demonstrably attract artists and other live-work craftsmen… [but] the proposal put before you by city staff is an ambush containing all those destructive consequences. The roadblocks in the way of changing some of these plans would be great, and in order to make it possible, it would require a tremendous amount of public outcry and rassroots organization, in order to influence some major change of character in the highest levels of local power. If Mayor Bloomberg could be convinced to live up to his many campaign promises of building more public schools (and not Just charter schools), and more affordable housing, then maybe Greenpoint could get the funds and zoning changes needed to build a new High School and provide good housing for its largest demographic, the lower class.

In order to fund some of these projects, taxes could be raised on all waterfront property that is not designated to low income ousing- which might provide some more incentive for developers to build more affordable housing in the area, and if it not, it might at least add some tax revenue that could help fund a new local high school.

A plan that properly addresses all the issues in a neighborhood like Greenpoint would have to be much more expansive and detailed, and would surely encounter a lot of resistance from some local politicians and big development companies, but some of the ideas presented in this paper could have far-reaching positive consequences if they could gain enough public support, and be implemented.