My Hometown: Saving the Soul of El Barrio

Late last week I went through a bunch of the problems of East Harlem. My big targets were: the housing stock, the projects, the dirt, lack of healthy food options and the apathy that can be created when you live in that sort of world.  I laid them all bare for the world to see.
I want my neighborhood to advance, to show the promise of other areas of the city.  I mistakenly gave the gentrified hipster reclamation areas of Williamsburg, Hells Kitchen and the Meat Packing district as aspiration examples of change.  This was an error on my part.  I want El Barrio to retain its Latin roots (both Italian and Puerto Rican!) and add new cultures. My vision is for it to be more like its
Queens neighbors of Astoria, Jackson Heights or Woodside.  These are large neighborhoods of mixed race, mixed housing all while retaining a working persons feel.
Let’s get into my ideas for helping
East Harlem:

– Open up super blocks.
Public housing projects close certain streets creating no-thru streets. These streets end up with little use, no activity and become dead zones. Opening them up will give the areas divinity of movement, allow for more potential store fronts and corners.

– Set up markets in empty green spaces of public housing.
This option would kill several birds with one stone. It would provide better food options, create local businesses and give the dead, unused areas of public housing life.  The model for this exists in the Red Hook ball fields where immigrant Mexican and South American families reclaimed an area long forgotten by the city. Well before IKEA moved in these areas were given life by industrious immigrants. (Of course, once it became big enough the City came in wanting its piece of the action)

– A path to ownership.
If the city can be a landlord, why can’t it be a management company?  Outline a path to co-operative ownership of public housing.  Ownership will provide the hardworking people who live in city housing the opportunity to own, care and look after these tiny pieces of the American dream.  We’ve seen this work with Mitchell-Lama and in
England during the Thatcher era.  Allowing folks a path out of poverty through home ownership would change the character of the area. 

– Increase taxes on non-improved or derelict buildings.
Stop slumlord ownership or inactivity by making it prohibitively expensive for them to sit on boarded up buildings.  Use tax rates to either force a slumlord to sell or improve their buildings.  Protect the look and feel of tenement stock by housing code; make sure nothing is built over five stories or over a certain width.   

– Education and health.
By hook or crook expose and educate the locals about the value of schooling and the dangers of poor health. These go hand in hand.  Educating young men and woman on birth control, their food options and how that affects school attendance is essential to moving thing forward.  Lastly de-centralize the power of the Board of Ed.   Allow for entrepreneurs to open their own schools in, in their own languages. Go back to pre-public school system of education. Why should we prevent folks who want to teach from teaching just because of licenses or guidelines or what have you.  Education could do for less regulation and be less politicized.  I am not for getting rid of public schools, or teachers right to unionization.  What I am looking for is to open up the box of innovation in education.  If we allow more into the education game, it’s likely we’ll find innovative solutions to our education problems.


What do you think of these ideas?  Will they make a difference?  I am way of base or right on.  I’d love to hear your ideas.

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By Laurent Courtines

I'm here and I am ready to go. Been doing my homework and I have things to say.

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