Frances Goldin Receives 2009 Yolanda Garcia Community Planner Award
July 24th, 2009, 9:05 am
“A renewal effort has to be conceived as a process of building on the inherent social and economic values of the community. Neglecting these values through programs of massive clearance and redevelopment can disrupt an entire community.” These words could easily have been written by South Bronx activist Yolanda Garcia. In the early 1990s, she founded an organization known as We Stay/Nos Quedamos, and led a movement of residents who wanted to remain in their neighborhood despite the City’s plan to redevelop it with low-density, mixed-income housing. They created an alternative plan for affordable housing development at Melrose Commons that is still being implemented today. However, the words above are actually the opening statement of the Cooper Square Alternate Plan, written in 1961 by a group of activists from the Lower East Side, including Frances Goldin. Known as the Cooper Square Committee, they opposed Robert Moses’ urban renewal plan to demolish and redevelop more than 2,500 housing units in their neighborhood. On July 13, the Municipal Art Society celebrated the kindred spirits of these two community activists by presenting the annual Yolanda Garcia Community Planner (YGCP) Award to Ms. Goldin. MAS created the YGCP award in 2006 to honor the memory of Ms. Garcia, who passed away in 2005. Selected from an open nomination process by a panel of judges consisting of former honorees and leaders in the community planning field, the awardee must have no formal training in planning, and must have demonstrated his or her ability to overcome the many obstacles to grassroots planning and bring neighborhood need and vision into New York City’s planning process. Ms. Goldin came to the Lower East Side from Queens in 1944 as a newlywed of 20. Shortly after her arrival, she went to a local group known as the 1st Ave. Tenant and Consumer Council to research her rent history because she thought her $75/month rent was too high. She became active with this group, and thus began a lifetime as a community organizer. In 1959, Robert Moses proposed a massive urban renewal plan for the Lower East Side that would have displaced 2,400 tenants, 450 single-room occupants, 4000 homeless beds, and over 500 businesses. He intended to create 2,900 units of middle-income housing, which would have been out of financial reach of 93 percent of residents. The Cooper Square Committee formed in response to this plan, and organized to create their own vision for the neighborhood’s future. “It was very easy to organize the group because people were directly affected,” said Goldin, who added that they coordinated over 100 community meetings in a year. The resulting Cooper Square Alternate Plan included public housing, Mitchell-Lama co-ops, other cooperative housing, resettlement and rehabilitation facilities, and artist housing. The group based the proposal on two main principles:
- the people who live on the site should be the beneficiaries, not the victims, of the plan;
- And, no tenant should be relocated outside the community.