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MAS: Demystify Fair Share

Barge on Newtown Creek - Photo by Nadia Chaudhury

The Municipal Art Society testified at a recent New York City Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses’ hearing on Fair Share. The Fair Share provision of the New York City Charter, added in 1989, was intended to include community participation in the siting of burdensome city facilities, such as sewage treatment plants and solid waste transfer stations, and to promote the equitable distribution of these facilities. Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander convened this hearing to explore the effectiveness of Fair Share in the 20 years since it was implemented and to identify opportunities for improvements.

Historically, undesirable city facilities, such as homeless shelters, waste transfer stations, and hazardous waste facilities, have been sited disproportionally in low-income communities of color. During hearings for the 1989 charter revision, communities complained that the siting process took place with little to no notice to local residents. Fair Share was designed to both encourage equitable siting while also involving local communities in the siting process.

In addition to MAS, key participants at the hearing included Frederick A. O. Schwarz, former Corporation Counsel, head of the Law Department of the City of New York, and chair of the 1989 charter revision commission that instituted Fair Share, environmental justice advocates, including Eddie Bautista from NYC-EJA, community board members, academics, and other advocates. Several participants observed that there are significant issues with the Fair Share provision.

As a part of MAS’ neighborhood based planning work, we have also consistently heard the message that Fair Share is difficult to understand and navigate. In response to these concerns and others raised at our July 2010 conference on land use, MAS announced that it will work on a simple and straightforward guide to navigating the Fair Share process, so New Yorkers can understand the process of siting of these facilities and know where there are opportunities to participate in the process.

Although the 2010 Charter Revision Commission declined to take up many of the critical issues at the heart of the Fair Share process, we recognize that there is much work to be done. MAS would like to thank Councilman Brad Lander and the rest of the City Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses for initiating this discussion on Fair Share.

News coverage of the hearing