Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Town Hall Tonight: New Tactics to Address Overcrowding in Greenwich Village

In 2008, as a wave of young children struck New York City and, apparently unpredicted by the DOE, swamped public elementary schools in Greenwich Village, a forward-thinking pair of Community Board politicians named Brad Hoylman and Keen Berger teamed up with local parents to hold a hearing to gauge community concern about overcrowding. On a rainy night in February, the auditorium of PS 3 was flooded with angry and worried parents. In the aftermath of this meeting, the Rudin organization, which was seeking zoning variances to build hundreds of luxury condos on the site of St. Vincent's Hospital, helped to broker a deal with the SCA to obtain the Foundling Hospital as a future elementary school. Three years later, with Foundling is still far from opening, Village schools more crowded than ever (with record class sizes and kids forced out of their zone for kindergarten), and St. Vincent's disastrously bankrupt and shuttered, the Rudins still seek zoning variances to double the space of allowed construction, even though there is now no hospital-rescue justifying their giant incursion on Village space.

50 years nearly to the day after the publication of Jane Jacobs's epochal Death and Life of Great Cities, inspired by Village fights against gargantuan development, another group of Village residents has banded together to defend the values of neighborhood, and this time they have included school space in their vision. The so-called Live and Learn Coalition is demanding that the Rudin proposal be amended to (1) reduce height and bulk of construction, (2) provide affordable housing, (3) ensure public park space, and (4) contribute substantially to the acquisition of state-owned property at 75 Morton Street for public school space.

This movement is significant not only for the desperately needed seats it may provide, but also for the example it offers of parents working with other community advocates on behalf of schools and including schools as part of a greater vision of neighborhood well being. Live & Learn members enthusiastically invite people to attend their Town Hall tonight (PS 41, 116 West 11th Street, between 6th and 7th, 6:30 PM), sign their petition, add other neighborhood groups to their coalition, and duplicate their efforts in land-use negotiations throughout the city.

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