Lower East Side residents crowded into Speyer Hall at University Settlement on Eldridge Street last night for a town hall-style meeting to discuss SPURA and its discontents. The crowd filled the seats, the side aisles, and spilled out into the hall as people waited for their two-minute turns at the sometimes malfunctioning microphones. Translators waited in the wings to assist the audience in understanding Chinese- and Spanish-language speakers. What followed was a litany of complaints that at times seemed coordinated. The main talking points by the collective group included:
1) No Big Box Stores—some people hate Wal Mart so much.
2) Paid Relocation of Essex Vendors—the small business owners of the Essex Market have done an incredible job of making sure that people demand that the city pay for any move they make to a new market facility.
3) Affordable Housing Forever—the SPURA plan calls for an affordable housing requirment lasting 60 years. Almost all speakers expressed that affordable housing be required in perpetuity, and preference be given to current neighborhood residents.
4) More Schools—widespread insistence that LES schools are overcrowded and that any SPURA development must involve the construction of more school facilities, which is not part of current plans.
Town hall-style meetings are supposed to embody the essence of democracy, but a lot of times they function more as the pressure valve of democracy—offering an opportunity for less powerful constituencies to vent their concerns and desires, even when you can sense that attention to them dissipates into thin air rather quickly (no elected officials were able to make it to the meeting). Still, it was a lively meeting with some variations in opinion. Some residents expressed the opinion that since the SPURA land is City-owned, it should be turned into 100% affordable housing. While one woman said that "50% of something is better than 0% of nothing," (50% of new SPURA housing is earmarked for affordable housing needs). One thing that everyone seemed in agreement on is that there are serious challenges facing less-affluent people on the Lower East Side.
[NB: Curbed left the two-hour town hall meeting after the first hour.]