Change Requires Participation

“Beating Upwind” is sailing into the wind – it’s hard work, but there are times when it’s necessary to accomplish your goal. At one point I thought when the house was done we could relax and do some downwind sailing (so to speak). And yes, things will get more relaxed and less crazy once we’re settled, but as we get to know Harlem we realize there’s more work to be done. Harlem is at a cross roads – schools are starting to improve, more and more gentrification is happening, bars restaurants and shops are getting better, but there’s still more to do…

community board 10Along those lines my partner Dan has thrown his hat into the ring and is trying to get onto Community Board 10. As you can see in the map to the right CB10 goes pretty much straight up from Central Park – it quite literally is Central Harlem. Our neighborhood, Mount Morris Park is the in the lower part of CB10’s territory – around the notch on the eastern side.

The community board is pretty badly broken and one of the things in Harlem that needs to be fixed. If you go to a board meeting you’ll see just how big of a mess it is. Much of the thinking on the board seems to reflect the failed policies that have kept Harlem a depressed area with a relatively high crime rate, lackluster schools, etc.

To change things people have to get involved (problems rarely fix themselves). Dan’s running instead of me because he’s better suited to being on the community board than I am. Where I can be a bit standoffish until I get to know someone, people generally really like Dan when they first meet him. He’s also more of a consensus builder – he genuinely wants people to get along and see eye-to-eye. But when push comes to shove he’s got a backbone and when a line needs to be drawn in the sand, he draws it and stands his ground.

Dan Wong in a construction site

Here are some of the issues we’re concerned about… I say “we”, ’cause Dan and I agree 95% of the time and I’ve agreed to attend meetings with him to ease his misery.

  • Crime in Harlem is unacceptably high.  Specific things we’re disturbed by are:
    • The rate (per 100,00 residents) in Harlem is generally more than double what it is in Inwood & Washington Heights or even East Harlem south of 116. On top of that there’s been essentially no reduction in crime 10 years in Harlem, while other precincts have brought down the crime substantially during that time.
    • We don’t feel NYPD is aggressive enough in combating drug dealing – there’s always a drug dealer available somewhere in Harlem. Given the number of drug treatment facilities in the neighborhood, the combination of lots of addicts and readily available drugs has predictable outcomes.
    • We don’t feel NYPD is trying hard enough to get rid of the dirt bikes and ATVs that disturb the peace and safety in the neighborhood on warm days.
    • We’re not happy with NYPD’s relationship and interaction with the community – they haven’t built trust with residents.
    • We support Stop & Frisk, but are not happy with how it’s implemented. We want to see NPYPD use “Courtesy, Professionalism & Respect” when they stop people.
  • Development in the area needs to favor owner-occupied units and quality construction. Owners generally care more about their communities than renters. And if something is constructed poorly, people will treat it poorly. We want residents to have a sense of ownership and take pride in their homes and in their neighborhood. When people care it makes a huge difference.
  • Shops, Restaurants & Bars are needed to support the growing demand of the middle and upper income people moving into new condos, higher end rentals, and renovated townhouses.
    • You can never have enough high quality grocery stores, bake shops, coffee shops, etc.
    • The community board approves liquor licenses and some members of CB10 have been trying to have Harlem bars close two hours earlier than anywhere else in the City – which will really dramatically slow the growth of interesting places to hang out in the neighborhood.
  • Schools in Harlem need to improve. This is a bit of a touchy issue since there’s a high concentration of charter schools in Harlem. Dan’s actually a big advocate of public schools since many of his students at CityTech (CUNY) come from public schools. Part of his job at CityTech is evaluating high school graphic design curricula. He sees how hard the public school teachers work and understands that they need more support in order for them to improve. He even testified on behalf of The High School of Graphic Communication Arts which was one of the schools spared from the latest round of closures. At the same time I sort of like how the charter schools are holding public school’s feet to the fire – showing how miserably the public schools have failed some students – that the problem isn’t the students, it’s the schools.

There’s a lot of other issues I could go into, but those give you an idea of where we’re coming from…

It’s not like the community board will change over night because Dan gets on it – if he gets on he’ll be one of 50 people on the board. But CB10 won’t change at all unless people like Dan get involved. I’m sure there are already some great people on the board – there just need to be many more.

I, meanwhile, have already started working with some of the people from the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association on issues around our immediate neighborhood that require attention. More on that later…

So if you’re planning on moving to Harlem – think about how you can better the community once you get here. If enough of us participate, we can make things better.

5 thoughts on “Change Requires Participation

    • Kathleen – You vote for Scott Stringer (and other elected officials) and they appoint community board members. You don’t vote for community board members.

  1. I didn’t know that! Who. Is Scott Stringer? I’d love it if Dan could devote his energies to those topics you described so well. Anything I can do to help?

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