This must begin by addressing the process by which these decisions are made, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP. This process for approving land use decisions has long been critiqued by community activists and advocates because of the way residents are locked out of the formal process; and the way real estate interests are locked in.
This has led many community members to the conclusion that the time for community engagement and organizing is before projects enter the land use process, and more recently, to call approved projects into question through legal means afterwards.
City agencies like the Department of City Planning, and the quasi-private entity, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) argue that they create opportunities for resident engagement ahead of ULURP through public meetings and workshops. However, the number of those engaged often falls extremely short in terms of the number of residents reached. Moreover, these meetings themselves have been widely critiqued as merely performative than instructive.
Activists and academics have modeled and pursued alternative approaches that could provide avenues towards just development and just futures.
For example, the Western Queens Community Land Trust along with Queens College and residents at Ravenswood Houses have been attempting to carry out robust resident engagement in relation to an adjacent publicly-owned building the city is planning to sell. Their visioning sessions have been held in locations where residents live and work, and at times based on their schedules. And these are the first conversations they’re having so the conversations are open and expansive rather than limited by other interests operating in the background.
Participatory budgeting (PBNYC) is an existing process that could provide guidance on what a community-centered land use process could look like. PBNYC is a process whereby residents in a specific council district decide together how to spend $1 million of their Council member’s budget allocation. They gather in the fall to share and propose ideas and collectively brainstorm; volunteers work together with city officials and agencies over the winter months to develop the ideas into tangible proposals that could be carried out; in the spring voting stations are disbursed across the neighborhood so residents can vote on which proposals they’d like to see move forward.
Development decisions could and should happen similarly.
While we have begun thinking about this, our goal is to meet with grassroots groups across the borough to expand and firm up our thinking.