Shedding Light on Public Land and Buildings to Empower Communities: NYCommons.org

Publicly owned land and buildings create important opportunities to create shared community spaces, affordable housing, and more, but too often, these sites are sold or taken out of public control with very little meaningful community input. NYCommons breaks this pattern and gives New York City residents a say in decisions over public assets.

In 2016-2017, we created NYCommons.org in collaboration with 596 Acres and Common Cause New York. The site was conceived of as an organizing platform for residents and organizers who want to understand public leverage over the development of public assets.

In 2016, as part of developing the tool, TakeRoot partnered with local groups in three neighborhoods to shed light on the publicly-owned property in these areas and ways community members can influence what happens to these properties. Working with broad, racially diverse coalitions on Staten Island’s North Shore, on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and in Red Hook, Brooklyn, TakeRoot and its partners hosted workshops that focused on key local sites and empowered community members with information about points of leverage in the development of these sites. The NYCommons events supported and strengthened the organizing of these local coalitions. In Staten Island, the Parks Department committed to rebuild a community center that our local partners have strived to realize for years. On the Lower East Side, Parks has committed to renovating and re-opening a parks building that has been closed to all recreational uses since the 1970s.

Details from those collaborations, including links to materials you can use for your own organizing, are below.

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We partnered with the Let’s Rebuild Cromwell Coalition in Staten Island in its response to the Draft Scope of Work for the Environmental Impact Study of the proposed Bay Street Corridor Rezoning had just come out and the City had announced the mandatory public hearing. The group’s main goal was to get the City to rebuild are public recreation center that had fallen into the sea. The City wanted to build a center in an entirely different neighborhood. By February 2017, the group had extracted promises from the City Administration to do just what they had been asking them to do! Feel free to borrow from the presentations we created for the group.

In Staten Island Pilot #1 you will learn about:

    • The community group Let’s Rebuild Cromwell and their advocacy work
    • What’s happening along Bay Street with the City’s proposed rezoning
    • What agencies make land use decisions
    • How you can influence them

In Staten Island Pilot #2 you will learn about:

    • The City’s plan to study Bay St for a rezoning
    • Ways the community could respond
    • How to brainstorm what the community wants to see and what groups are already advocating for
    • How to prepare for a Scoping Hearing on the Bay St rezoning

Sample Scoping Hearing Template

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Our community partner in Red Hook in summer 2016 was the Carroll Gardens Association, is a longstanding staffed organization in the early stages of forming a neighborhood coalition to advocate for affordable housing and other priorities of low-income residents. Ultimately, the workshops left the newly formed Red Hook Community Coalition feeling energized and excited to continue working together going ahead. Feel free to borrow from the presentations we created for the group. In Red Hook Pilot #1, you will learn about:

    • The rules that affect what’s built on private land
    • How the community can have a voice in the process

In Red Hook Pilot #2, you will learn about:  

    • The rules that apply to public property in Red Hook that’s owned by the Port Authority, NYCHA property, and parkland.
    • How the community can influence what happens on public property
    • Steps to develop a Community Coalition

Sample Neighborhood Map Sample Guide to Neighborhood Elected Advocates

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Our community partner on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition, was founded in the 1980’s, and has a successful record of cleaning up the park, and creating and maintaining three GreenThumb Gardens and a bird sanctuary as well as helping install a non-profit low-income senior center in one of the park’s four buildings. Their project is to recapture for community use a New York City Parks building that was built as a community center and closed down in the 1970s. The workshops led to meetings with Department of Parks personnel and elected officials. The building is steps closer to re-opening as a community center as a result of the Coalition’s efforts. Feel free to borrow from the presentations we created for the group.

In Lower East Side Pilot #1, you will learn

    • About the history of the community fight for the Stanton Building
    • Community visions for the building
    • Who owns and and controls the Stanton Building
    • How to influence what happens at the Stanton Building

Sample Visioning Worksheet | Sample Worksheet Analysis | Sample Survey |Sample Take Action Guide | Sample Community District Map | Sample Community District Elected Advocates and Power Players |NYC Budget Timeline

In Lower East Side Pilot #2, you will learn about:

    • Where NYC Parks land comes from and what has happened to Parks buildings
    • How money gets allocated to parks
    • Strategies to build community power