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Neighborhood Planning Heats Up

Over the course of two Saturdays in May at Hunter College, the MAS Planning Center trained more than 100 New Yorkers, from community board members to city newcomers, from neighborhoods across the city, to become part of the next generation of community planners.

Part of the Planning Center’s Livable Neighborhoods Program, the two, day-long seminars broke down the community planning process, offering training materials and workshops on everything from community organizing to zoning to sustainability to how to create a community plan that elected officials will take seriously.

Broad Experience Shared – Workshop instructors included planners from the Department of City Planning, Sustainable South Bronx, the Fifth Avenue Committee in Brooklyn, Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, the Independent Budget Office and MAS, discussing issues from how to read an environmental impact statement to how to navigate the city planning process to how to create and preserve affordable housing. Each seminar student received a “toolkit” with chapters on community organizing, data collection, 197-a planning, brownfield planning, historic and cultural resources preservation, electronic mapping and the budget process, among other topics.

The city itself provides only limited training and resources to community boards, which are charged with making critical planning decisions on behalf of neighborhood residents. This program is meant to fill in those gaps, and to demonstrate that effective neighborhood planning depends on sufficient resources. The inspiration for the Livable Neighborhoods Program is the Campaign for Community-Based Planning, a coalition-driven effort to build a more meaningful role for New Yorkers in the city’s planning process.

Anthony Borrelli, director of Land Use, Planning, and Development at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, facilitated a workshop and had this to say: “More than anything, I was impressed by the enormous appetite lay folks have for zoning information and knowledge. Land Use 101 and other community development workshops should be an on-going service.”

Participants agreed. “This renewed my sense of optimism that you just have to keep trying,” said Magda Aboulfadl, enforcement project manager at the Garment Industry Development Corporation. “Even if you write the perfect 197-a and mobilize everybody and get the full support of your elected official, even if you don’t know what the outcome of that is, you still have to keep trying.”

The Need Continues – Given the positive feedback and the clear need for more training for people who want to get involved, the Planning Center hopes to make the Livable Neighborhoods Program an annual event. This year’s participants can continue the dialogue begun on neighborhood planning issues through the Livable Neighborhoods Network, an internet-based social network.

Helping organizations and advocates in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods confront the planning, land use and economic development issues facing their communities is the core goal of the MAS Planning Center. Through public forums, workshops, publications and one-to-one assistance, the center tackles neighborhood issues at grassroots and citywide levels. The Livable Neighborhoods Program is primarily funded by the Altman Foundation and the Mizuho USA Foundation of the Mizuho Corporate Bank. Special assistance for the LNP workshops came from the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development.

(The writer is director of the MAS Planning Center.)