Friday, November 28, 2008

The Red Cross provides aid to Chinatown and L.E.S.

The Red Cross provides aid to Chinatown and L.E.S.
By Lincoln Anderson

A Chinatown civic and business group and Community Board 3 both got some first aid last Thursday. Each has been awarded a Sept. 11 Recovery Grant by the American Red Cross Liberty Disaster Relief Fund to help improve the community. The grants are part of a Red Cross program to help neighborhoods recover from the lingering effects of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation was awarded a $422,000 grant, while C.B. 3 received $100,000.
The Chinatown Partnership will use its grant to create a comprehensive public process to assure that the community is actively involved in the planning and redesign of public spaces, important roadways and parks in Chinatown, and has access to government resources and services.
C.B. 3 will use its grant money on a Lower East Side Transportation Awareness and Outreach Program that will focus on issues like Park Row, which is still partially closed four years after 9/11.
The announcement was made at a press conference in Chatham Square attended by Amy Chin, interim executive director of the Chinatown Partnership L.D.C.; David Louie, Chinatown Partnership L.D.C. chairperson; David McWater, chairperson of Community Board 3; Peter H. Kostmayer, president of Citizens for NYC; Danny Chen, project manager of the Community Board 3 Transportation Project, and other community leaders and residents.
“With more than half of the residents of Lower Manhattan living in Chinatown, post-9/11 community revitalization efforts cannot ignore the plight of this historically significant community,” said Louie.
“Now, thanks to this Sept. 11 Recovery Grant from the American Red Cross and extraordinary collaboration with our partners — Community Board 3, Civic Center Residents Coalition and Citizens for NYC — this community will receive the attention it deserves and the help it so desperately needs.”
Said McWater of C.B. 3, “This is the first time the community board has ever applied for a grant. This financial support will have a tremendous impact on allowing the board to reach out to the community and involve residents in community planning.”
After the 9/11 attacks, major-access arteries and parks in and around the vicinity of Chinatown were closed, as were the side streets that connected the neighborhood to the Financial District. Today, due to the continued closing of Park Row for security reasons, access to much of Downtown, including City Hall, the courts, government offices and NYU Downtown Hospital, remains more difficult than it was before the terrorist attacks.
Chin said the projects’ planners must seek and engage the Chinatown community. With the Red Cross Sept. 11 Recovery Grant, the Chinatown Partnership L.D.C. will create a comprehensive public process to engage the community in the future design and development of its neighborhood through open forums, community outreach, street-level discourse and workshops.
Chin noted, “By encouraging Chinatown residents to become involved and by soliciting their ideas and views, we will create culturally appropriate designs that reflect local needs and uses. And more importantly, residents will begin to reclaim ownership of their community, much of which had been usurped because of post-9/11 security concerns.”
The Partnership will focus on four key projects: Park Row, Chatham Square, Pier 35/East River waterfront redevelopment and James Madison Park.
A major artery, Park Row has been closed since 9/11 and only recently has been partially opened to buses. Future plans for the area are unclear. This civic involvement process will work to ensure that the plans are acceptable to and compatible with the community.
A residential anchor, center of commerce and historically significant meeting place, Chatham Square joins (Cantonese) historic Chinatown and (Fukienese) East Broadway. Working with the city’s Department of Transportation and community leaders, the Partnership will coordinate the community’s involvement in the redesign of Chatham Square as a central public space.
A new waterfront park at Pier 35 will be an important amenity for Chinatown and Lower East Side residents and will potentially make this the only Chinatown in America with waterfront access. The Chinatown Partnership L.D.C., through its civic planning process, will provide an opportunity for Chinatown and Lower East Side residents to shape the design, programming and eventual use of the new park.
As the Parks Department plans to redesign the half-acre James Madison Park, the Partnership will work with the city Parks and Transportation departments to ensure input from residents of Chatham Green and Chatham Towers, as well as students and staff at Murray Bergtraum High School and other neighborhood stakeholders.
The Partnership will also use the Red Cross funding to create a Chinatown Night Market, modeled on a tradition of night markets in East Asia and the new, successful night market in San Francisco — as well as outdoor events that combine family time with community interaction.
In addition, new street signs and maps throughout the community and at several key intersections will improve Chinatown’s social and physical integration into Lower Manhattan and connection with surrounding neighborhoods, such as Soho, the Financial District, Little Italy, Lower East Side, South St. Seaport and Tribeca.
Additionally, the Partnership will create a semi-volunteer team of trained bilingual community information guides, called Jammers, standing for “Just Ask Me.” Jammers, identifiable by their colorful uniforms, will provide residents and visitors vital information about access to public and private services, cultural institutions, city and state agencies, local businesses, social service programs, educational institutions and other services. Jammers will receive a modest stipend.
The Partnership will also develop and publish a comprehensive quarterly bilingual resource guide that can be included in newspapers and newsletters. The guide will provide local residents with timely and updated information about health fairs, community events, workshops and seminars and ongoing programs operated by local community agencies. The Resource Guide will also be available at locations throughout Chinatown.
The Chinatown Partnership is an outgrowth of the Rebuild Chinatown Initiative, which was begun as a project to spark community discourse on planning the future of Chinatown.
C.B. 3 will use its grant to put do a monthly newsletter, Web site and four public forums on transportation issues and to fund student interns working on traffic-simulation programs. The newsletter will be distributed to the board’s mail and e-mail list and dropped off at housing complexes.
“This grant will help bootstrap efforts to inform and involve more Chinatown and Lower East Side residents on the transportation and environmental issues that are crucial to our neighborhoods,” said Chen, a C.B. 3 public member, co-founder of the Civic Center Residents Coalition — a group that formed after 9/11 in response to issues like the closing of Park Row — and the manager of the board’s Transportation Project.
University Settlement, the Lower East Side’s 120-year-old settlement house, will be the fiscal manager for the community board’s grant.
Civil engineering and/or computer science students interested in the internship should call the community board office at 212-533-5300, ext. 320

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