Gentrification, Congestion

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Downtown residents sound off on their changing nabes at Squadron's Town Hall meeting

By Lillian Rizzo

Downtown Manhattan residents, like those in most other neighborhoods, worry about slow public transportation service, excessive noise and funding cuts to vital government programs. But Lower East Side dwellers also have a major demand for their diverse city streets: Don't let gentrification change them anymore.

At State Sen. Daniel Squadron's last town hall meeting, held at the BRC Senior Center at 30 Delancey St. on Tuesday, Nov. 15, he listened to the concerns and complaints of his constituents from the LES, Chinatown and the East Village. The meeting came a week after his first town hall at the Southbridge Community Houses, 90 Beekman St., to address the needs of the residents of Lower Manhattan, Tribeca, Little Italy, Battery Park City, Financial District and Soho.

Topics raised at the town hall were varied, but the sentiment that Downtown Manhattan neighborhoods are changing too much was shared by many. When it came to gentrification, the Bowery and LES were pinpointed. An overall increase in traffic and congestion was also targeted in those areas, as well as Tribeca and the East Village.

The concerns about the Bowery spanned from making buildings on the east side of the street landmarks, halting the building of hotels, increased congestion and environmental matters. Most were from LES residents, while others were from neighboring areas that also use the thoroughfare.

"They are building enormous hotels on the Bowery, which use a ton of water," said Michele Campo, a LES resident. "How many hotels do we need in this city? They put up more and it hurts small businesses."

Not far from the Bowery, the Bialystoker Nursing Home, the oldest nursing home in the area at 228 E. Broadway, was also mentioned. On Nov. 1, Bialystoker was forced to close its doors and send senior citizens to affordable assisted living homes in the outer boroughs. While residents within and outside of the home fought to keep Bialystoker open, the owner faced a tough financial situation. Even though residents are still upset its doors are closed, they are even more concerned about will happen to the building now that it is up for sale.

"Our immediate goal is saving this building-very few [like it] remain in the LES," said one neighborhood resident. Bialystoker is an art deco building built in the 1920s, and was home to many Holocaust survivors throughout the years.

"That nursing home was a terrible loss to the community, and it would be a terrible loss to lose the building," said Squadron. "I am trying to make a strong case on advocating to make the building a landmark."

Squadron noted that he had "urged" the state attorney general to look closely at Biaylstoker's chance of becoming a landmark.

The same resident also brought up buildings on the east side of the Bowery and how they were unprotected from demolition or defacing, unlike those on the west side. He hoped to "ward off gentrification." Squadron said he had supported a previous form of the proposal to create landmarks on the Bowery's east side, which has already been sent to City Planning.

As the meeting continued, gentrification managed to creep into the conversation, though not always in the form of saving the neighborhoods' original appearance. Many residents targeted streets crowded with cars and bicycles.

"Bicycles have made the streets more dangerous for pedestrians; there is no law enforcement for them," said Michael O'Connor of the East Village.

O'Connor said that as his neighborhood's residents change, so do their modes of transportation. An increased number of cyclists have appeared in the East Village, speeding through red lights and even riding on the sidewalks, he told Squadron.

Squadron responded with hope that law enforcement will become stricter with bicyclists, especially those who ride on the sidewalk.

Following O'Connor's unruly bicyclist concerns, a Little Italy resident raised the issue of traffic leading to the Holland Tunnel in Tribeca making the streets more dangerous.

"My concern is about suburban drivers; the other night, right off of Varick Street, I actually thanked traffic officers for being there," said Elliot Hurwitt of Little Italy following the meeting. During the meeting, he shared the story of a close call, when a driver almost hit him while illegally switching lanes. Many residents agreed with Hurwitt and shared similar concerns about Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge.

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