South Bronx Hero Shows the City ‘the Way’
February 18th, 2009, 8:59 am
The bright sun reflected off the many new buildings of Melrose Commons in the South Bronx, as elected officials, activists, developers, friends, family, and other admirers gathered on East 157th Street to honor the memory of Yolanda Garcia yesterday. Third Avenue between 156th and 157th Streets is now known as “Yolanda Garcia Way.” Ms. Garcia’s family owned a carpet shop in the Melrose section of the Bronx, where she was working in the early 1990s when she learned of a City urban renewal plan that called for displacing local residents and creating low-density housing. Incensed that those residents who stayed in the South Bronx despite decades of disinvestment were going to be displaced, Ms. Garcia founded Nos Quedamos/We Stay. This grassroots group was dedicated to rethinking the plan, including the community in the process, and preventing displacement. The resulting Melrose Commons plan helped to create over 1,500 units of affordable housing in the area, kept thousands of residents from being displaced, and even brought green building principles to the South Bronx. Speakers at the ceremony, including Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Congressman Jose E. Serrano, State Senator Jose M. Serrano, and Assembly Members Michael Benjamin and Ruben Diaz, Jr., among others, praised Ms. Garcia for her nurturing, her intelligence, and even her unrelenting “nudge-i-ness” when it came to advocating for her neighborhood. “When the history books are written, there’s going to be a wonderful story not only of how this borough went from ruin to revitalization, but how it led the nation,” said Diaz, Jr. Ms. Garcia’s daughter, Yolanda Gonzalez, took over Nos Quedamos after her mother suffered a heart attack at the Nos Quedamos office in February 2005. Ms. Garcia was just 53. Wearing red in honor of American Heart Month, Ms. Gonzalez encouraged everyone in the crowd to “Take care of your mom.” The Municipal Art Society honors Ms. Garcia’s memory every year with the Yolanda Garcia Community Planner Award. Nominations for the 2009 award will be open in March.